Brexit’s Opponents Echo the Arguments of Loyalists Fearful of American Independence

57897412_MLVoters in today’s slimmed-down United Kingdom (comprised mainly of England, Northern Ireland, Scotland and Wales) approved on June 23, by a margin of 52 percent to 48 percent, a referendum obligating London to leave the European Union. David Cameron, the nation’s prime minister and a staunch supporter of “remain” in the prequel to Election Day, has resigned from office, triggering an upheaval within his Conservative Party over selecting his successor.

Doomsayers, both before and after the vote, have predicted dire consequences for the UK’s economy. As a matter of fact, stock markets in London and many of the UK’s trading partners fell precipitously immediately following the “leave” vote. Officials of the EU’s government in Brussels and members of the European Parliament have threatened to retaliate against withdrawal unless its terms are negotiated quickly. Even President Obama has stated that the UK will be relegated to “the back of the queue” when it comes to negotiating future international trade deals with an EU-independent British nation.

Stock market losses recovered over the next two trading days.

Students of America’s founding era, circa 1763–1787, should be struck by the similarities between the arguments rehearsed by the opponents of a compete break with George III then and those of anti-Brexiters nowadays. Uncertainties about the political and economic consequences of separating from a puissant British Empire, the consequences of expected disruptions to international trade, especially if London retaliated by cutting off access to its Caribbean ports, and the loss of the Royal Navy’s protection of American maritime commerce – all such arguments have been trotted out again recently and energized some opponents of Brexit to call for another vote on June 23rd’s ballot question.

While it is true that the newfound American nation experienced a brief, but minor recession after the Treaty of Paris was signed on September 3, 1783, granting independence to the United States of America, and many challenges followed that event, it also is true that prosperity returned fairly quickly. Why should the sequel to Brexit be any different?

The reality is that the EU’s government in Brussels will try its best to penalize the UK for its vote to leave. Politicians don’t like ceding power. Parliamentarians there already have said that if the UK wants to retain favored trade status with the remaining EU countries, it also will be obliged to comply with the EU’s policies respecting relatively uncontrolled immigration. That threat is not credible, given strong opposition to it in Germany and other EU member states. Open movement of people between nations is acceptable to most westerners, I think, as long as potential terrorists and welfare-state clients are excluded.

Political union under a centralized, supranational government is not necessary to capture the benefits of unfettered international trade. An independent Estonia prospered after abandoning Soviet-era trade restrictions. Switzerland never joined the EU; Denmark and Sweden rejected the Euro in favor of their own currencies.

Supporters of “remain” in Scotland and Northern Ireland may vote for independence of the UK in the near future, but an independent UK (or even just England and Wales) could well become the free-trade center of Europe, as Hong Kong is of Asia.

The Brexit vote ought to be treated with the same benignity that President Abraham Lincoln adopted in responding to West Virginia’s secession from the Commonwealth of Virginia while America’s War Between the States (1861–1865) was pitting brother against brother and father against son.

Independence and self-governance are indispensable human rights, proclaimed by President Woodrow Wilson as guiding (but unfulfilled) promises of the post-First World War world. Last month, the UK acted to realize those promises.

Lovers of liberty should celebrate Brexit, just as supporters of American independence did 240 years ago.

William F. Shughart II is a Distinguished Research Advisor and Senior Fellow at the Independent Institute, the J. Fish Smith Professor in Public Choice at Utah State University, past President of the Public Choice Society as well as the Southern Economic Association, and editor of the Independent book, Taxing Choice.
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