Europe

Brexit blues: the experts were right

“People in this country have had enough of experts,” said Michael Gove, one of the leaders of the campaign for Brexit. He was right. British people are indeed tired of being told by experts that things they don’t like are actually good for them. On 23 June they ignored the advice of economists, central bankers and the leaders of both main political parties by voting to leave the European Union.

The trouble is, the experts were right. Leaving the EU will be bad for Britain, bad for Europe and bad for the world.

Some Brexiteers argue that, without Brussels choking everyone with red tape, Britain outside the EU will be a haven of free trade and light regulation. I would love this to be true but I think it about as likely as Boris Johnson becoming a nun. We are removing ourselves from the world’s largest free-trade area, which currently takes nearly half our exports. We will struggle to negotiate a deal anything like as good as what we have now.

To discourage other countries from leaving, our EU partners will offer us a much worse one. The free trade in financial services is most at risk. Can London remain the financial capital of Europe when it is not part of Europe? I doubt it.

British firms in all industries, as they grow more isolated from trade and competition, will get a little bit less efficient each year than they would otherwise be. Britain will grow steadily poorer than it should have been. We were on course to become the strongest economy in Europe. Now that seems implausible.

As Britain prepares to stomp out of Europe, Scotland is preparing to stomp out of the UK. The Scots will hold another referendum and will probably vote for independence. David Cameron will be remembered as the prime minister who caused Great Britain to break up.

He may also be remembered as the man who started the EU on the road to unravelling. In other countries such as France and Italy, populists and nationalists will be encouraged by the Brexit vote to demand their own referendums. I don’t think the EU will actually fall apart, but then again, I didn’t think that Brexit would happen or that Donald Trump would be the Republican nominee. These are angry times.

The arguments for leaving were mostly appeals to our hearts, not our heads. If we are proud of being British, we should show our independence by spurning Brussels, we were told. That is like arguing that, if I am proud to be a man, I should divorce my wife. It fails to consider the many ways that proud, hard-working people are stronger when they work together.

There are plenty of things wrong with the EU: its unaccountable government, fiddly rules and wasteful bureaucrats. But the benefits of membership far outweighed the costs. Now we will lose them, and take a big step into uncertainty. I wonder if Mr Gove seeks expert help when he has toothache?

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