Some libertarians are now starting to question whether Brexit (British exit from the European Union) was a good idea or whether it will lead to a freer Britain. Commentary with this viewpoint has started to emerge in the aftermath of the 2016 UK Conservative Party Conference where during her keynote address new Prime Minister Theresa May attacked both the ‘ideological templates of the socialist left and the libertarian right’. This was complimented by the changes conservative manifesto to reflect a more interventionist economic policy with an emphasis on workers’ rights, increased public spending and borrowing along with possible subsidies for industries. There are also fears that Britain post Brexit will also leave the European single market in an effort to regain control of their immigration program.
Some libertarians have argued that despite the European Union’s large bureaucracy that because of the single market and free movement of people it was still a worthy free market institution. They have used the leftward drift of the Conservatives under May as their justification to claim that Brexit was more about protectionism and nationalism than anything to do with having an independent Britain. But the domestic agenda of the new British government should have nothing to do with the arguments for or against Brexit. It should be remembered that the main justification for Brexit was to return democracy to the British people and restoring of the national sovereignty to the British parliament which could pass laws on behalf of the people free from foreign intervention. That is still what Brexit will bring, an independent nation with autonomy to determine its own destiny.
The decisions that future British governments take may not be free market ones, but the nature of democracy is that sometimes the people may choose to elect leaders who believe in more interventionist policies. The belief that some Brexit supports had that after the vote that a more free market Britain would now emerge was extremely foolish. But the important thing about a post Brexit Britain is that now the decisions about how the nation is run is made by the people. One of the most important principles of liberty and freedom is that decisions of government should be made as close to the people as possible. It is why libertarians believe in federalism and having supported many secessionist movements, because a smaller state is a less intrusive state. Localism is an important mechanism for restraining the power of any authority. This is why Brexit will be a good development for Britain in the long term. The European Union with its obscene product regulations, nanny state tendencies, tariffs and quotas on trade outside of the single market, not to mention the striking down of democratically enacted British legislation was hardly a bastion of freedom.
The concerning leftward direction of the May Conservative government is a completely different issue from Brexit. The reaction that libertarians should have to this development is not running back to the EU but campaigning for libertarian policies to be reflected in a British government. This can be achieved by either more activism from libertarian groups, joining the Conservative Party in an effort to change it from within, or maybe the United Kingdom Independence Party isn’t irrelevant yet? Just because they have achieved their main aim of Brexit doesn’t mean their work is done. If the Conservatives continue down their current path a strong UKIP to champion libertarian ideas will be an important feature of future British democracy. It is easier to change the policy of national government than a centralised superstate like the EU so the task of reforming government policy is now much simpler.
It is not all bad news from the UK conservative government. Now free from the EU’s trade regulations it can pursue free trade agreements with many nations outside of single market. Gaining back control of their immigration policies means that they can now deport terrorist supporters without invention from so called ‘human rights’ courts ensuring a higher level of safety for British citizens. Let’s remember that the actual process of Brexit hasn’t even started yet, it is way too early for libertarians to declare it a failed project. The benefits of Brexit will eventually be realised, if you want to change Britain to a more free market country it is now much easier to lobby for one.