Half a decade after the Brexit vote, it is clear that the classical liberal intellectual case for Brexit has a fatal flaw.

There were many reasons for voting Brexit, and as these have been rehashed endlessly, I won’t do so here.

I find one line of argument fascinating because it comes from the type of person who tends to think like me. Those who see themselves as classical liberals and value the intellectual contributions of John Stuart Mill, Karl Popper and Friedrich Hayek. We think the market is better at solving problems than the state and appreciate how Margaret Thatcher saved us from the abyss of socialism. I know many such people, and every single one eligible to vote in Britain voted Brexit, or wish they had voted Brexit, except me.

Who is right?

Simple. There is a fatal logical fallacy in the intellectual case the classical liberals have made for Brexit, which is how Brexit will make things better.

Their intellectual case is that the European Union is horrible. It was holding us back. Now we are unshackled and can implement sensible economic policies, enjoy future growth and prosperity. Meanwhile, the EU is bogged down by its internal contradictions, excessive regulations and anticapitalism.

What is missing is any evidence that we can do any better. That after “gaining our independence”, we would find our own, better path to prosperity. Except, Britain does not like free markets. It likes its regulations, big state, control of citizens even more than its European neighbours. So after decoupling from the EU, we won’t take advantage by liberalising. No, we take the advantage to regulate, control, tax.

And perversely, we can do self damage we would not have been able to do while members of the EU.

Because what the classical liberal Brexiteers, in their hatred for the EU, miss is that one of the primary purposes of the EU is to make sure countries don’t do too many stupid things.

And now that we are outside, we are free to do stupid things. And we are taking full advantage of our freedom to do exactly that.

And that is the fatal flaw in the classical liberal case for Brexit. It is not enough to say that the EU is horrible. They did not show is how we would take advantage given what we know about the political constraints of Britain.

When I have made this argument to the classical liberal Brexiters, they usually say, “I agree, and I don’t care. I hate the EU, we are better than them, we left, and that all that matters”. Sad.


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