Would Brexit Be A Tonic For Britannia?

Five books about Brexit provide nourishing fare for EU contrarians

Luke Johnson

Britannia in trouble: Detail of “Caught Between Death and the Doctor’s”, 1804, by James Gillray. The caricature shows (left to right) Addington, Pitt, Fox and Napoleon

I have been more engaged in the EU referendum than any other political contest in my life. I first became involved in the debate when Jimmy Goldsmith led the Referendum Party in 1997. It has taken 40 years to secure a vote on this vital issue, and I fear we will never get another chance if we consent to remain. In recent months I have read and debated more about the issues than in the preceding decade, and five new books have provided plenty of instructive material to consider.

Each has its merits. For someone who wants a short, punchy essay, Daniel Hannan’s A Doomed Marriage (Notting Hill Editions, £8.99) is the answer. He provides an excellent high-level case for the Leave camp. As an MEP since 1999 Hannan has extensive understanding of the Brussels machine. He is a persuasive author and a tireless advocate for an EU-free future for Britain.

I especially enjoyed his chapter entitled “The Tyranny of the Status Quo”. In it he describes how legions of organisations benefit from EU funding and regulations, in the process becoming client entities of Brussels.  Charities like the Friends of the Earth and Oxfam are all corrupted by EU subventions. Even that Big Business lobby group the CBI receives EU cash. So they all line up to parrot the Establishment lines from Project Fear. I attended a debate with a batch of “creative industry” attendees. I am sure the majority of them secured financial support from the EU — which in effect bought their support in the referendum. Of course this cash is in effect British cash, channelled via Brussels, since we pay £350 million a week into the EU’s coffers. It then dispenses that money and creates client supporters.

The energetic  Hannan has also written a weightier tome, called Why Vote Leave (Head of Zeus, £9.99). Essentially this covers the same ground, and even includes some almost identical material. Certainly, no one should buy both. As ever, Hannan writes well, and provides a thoroughly researched and convincing case for the Leave campaign. In many ways he is perhaps the best spokesperson the Brexit camp has: optimistic, articulate, charismatic and highly knowledgeable. Whatever the outcome of the referendum, he should surely leave Brussels, find a constituency in Britain and practise politics at Westminster.

Roger Bootle’s book, The Trouble with Europe (Nicholas Brealey Publishing, £9.99), is a new edition of a work first published a couple of years ago. Roger is an exceptionally clever economist who has built up a highly successful consultancy called Capital Economics. Consequently, unlike the vast majority of his profession, he knows how to create and run a business, and make real money. In my mind this gives him an authority and insight which so many of his overly academic fellow economists lack. 

The Trouble with Europe is a pretty comprehensive guide to all the issues surrounding Britain’s relationship with the EU. It explains why the EU came about, whether it has been a success, what its future looks like, and how we might leave it. Bootle is a pronounced sceptic. He was doubtful about both the ERM and the euro from the start, and has been proven right on both counts.  He also called the US real estate bubble and the dot com boom correctly. 

His book is not a dusty text but highly readable, even for those who have no special understanding of economics. Of these five volumes, this is perhaps the most wide-ranging. Of course, it is biased, but then all these books are essentially anti-EU. The fact that there are so many says a lot. No one in any of the debates I’ve attended over the referendum is really very keen on the EU. Indeed, most of the pro-EU camp are highly critical of the institution, and see it as bureaucratic, undemocratic, remote and poorly governed. As a consequence, they lack true conviction, and can’t be bothered to write serious works in its defence. Their argument relies almost entirely on a series of scares designed to frighten voters into plumping for the current system because any alternative must be worse.

This cowardly, pathetic stance is typical of the chaos which the EU represents. The eurozone is an unmanageable consortium, while the Schengen border arrangements are close to collapse. The EU itself was sold as a trading pact (the Common Market) but  for many of the Brussels elite is a political project. This contradictory vision is at the heart of the problem. I believe a large majority of citizens in Britain — and probably in much of the rest of the EU — do not want a political merger. They want our country to be an independent nation state, in charge of our own laws — but trading with everyone.  Meanwhile the Commission and other instruments of the EU have other ideas. 

The Institute of Economic Affairs, a respected right-of-centre think tank, has published a manual called Breaking Up Is Hard To Do (£15), edited by Patrick Minford and J.R. Shackleton. It consists of 15 chapters by different authors, covering all the possible ways the EU could reform. It tackles gritty subjects like the Common Agricultural Policy (still consuming 40 per cent of the EU’s total budget), EU employment regulation, fisheries legislation, energy, financial services and transport rules among others. It is somewhat technical but nevertheless provides useful detail for anyone who wants to understand the true facts of the pros and cons of the EU.    Inevitably the tone is Eurosceptic, but the individual authors are by no means one-sided. For example, the author of the chapter on freedom of movement is a confirmed Remain supporter.

Like all such books, this collection works best as a reference source when a specific issue needs to be addressed. It is a handy book to possess even if we vote to stay, since it provides some guidelines on how any renegotiation might take place, and how to judge the results.

The final book of the batch is Europe’s Deadlock: How the Euro Crisis Could Be Solved — And Why It Still Won’t Happen, by David Marsh (Yale, £7.99). It is a short volume, concentrating not on the referendum, but the ongoing difficulties of the euro.  Marsh is an expert on monetary affairs, and wrote for the Financial Times for many years. He knows his stuff and for those who want to get to grips with the challenges facing a monetary union this is a decent primer. His conclusions are not optimistic. He provides a number of possible solutions to the present and future difficulties of the eurozone, but doubts that the politicians and civil servants in charge will take the necessary steps — some of which are inevitably very radical, including full-scale political union.

Almost the entire establishment has ganged up to push Remain propaganda. So the odds against Britain voting to leave are long. But for the contrarians, those who are happy to be in a minority among the London elite, then these books will be nourishing fare. It might just be that in the polling booth, the shy anti-EU vote asserts itself.  Let us hope that once again the intellectuals are wrong-footed — and Britain takes the bold step of embracing democracy,  deciding to control its own destiny, and voting to dump the failed project that is the EU.

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