September 2017

More than a year after a historic referendum, Britain continues on its path toward leaving the EU. Yet the exact shape of that depature remains to a considerable degree uncertain. What policies will emerge in the areas of trade, immigration, and inter-governmental cooperation?

The lead essay this month is by former Member of the European Parliament Daniel Hannan, a longtime supporter of Brexit who views it as an opportunity to set much freer trade policies for Britain than would otherwise be possible. Replying to him will be Dalibor Rohac of the American Enterprise Institute, Ryan Bourne of the Cato Institute, and Sam Bowman of the Adam Smith Institute. Each has a somewhat different perspective on Brexit and the path forward thereafter; each will write a formal response, then all will discuss the various issues raised through the end of the month.

Comments are also open, and we likewise invite readers’ feedback on these matters through the end of the month.

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Lead Essay

  • Daniel Hannan reviews what Britain stands to gain by leaving the EU, as well as what it should seek to preserve. An economic common market has always been a desirable goal, he argues, but the same cannot be said of a common goverment. Obstacles to free trade tend to be local and concentrated interests, while consumers tend to benefit most, albeit in a dispersed way. Britain’s economy is healthy despite the naysayers, and it will be better able to pursue free trade agreements outside the EU once Brexit is completed.

Response Essays

  • Dalibor Rohac challenges the claim that Brexit wasn’t about immigration. Leave voters overhwlmingly wanted to restrict immigration, and they responded to anti-immigration messages issued by various groups in the Leave campaign. As a result of the vote, Britain’s place in the Single Market may be in danger, and without it, economists generally agree that the British economy will suffer. The promised free trade agreements that were to arise before Brexit seem not to have materialized. All of these, he says, are sound reasons for concern.

  • Ryan Bourne sketches the way forward for an independent Britain. He begins by looking at what Leave voters appear to have wanted, namely, a return to parliamentary sovereignty and a rejection of political integration into a supra-state. Leave voters were not anti-trade so much as they were in favor of using local institutions and local rule as the instruments to oversee it. The current political leadership may be less than inspiring, Bourne writes, but Brexit is a long-term proposition, and it tends toward greater freer markets, he believes.

  • Sam Bowman of the Adam Smith Institute explains why he does not view Brexit with much optimism. The best available models predict that trade will probably suffer on net. This is already reflected in a drop in the value of the British pound. Not only that, but socialism remains popular at home and will now face no EU controls to slow it down. Most Britons are neither xenophobes nor free market liberals, and the political climate is unsettled enough that Britain stands to suffer genuine harms from leaving the EU.

Related at Cato

Commentary: “Brexit: What Now?” by Michael Tanner, June 29, 2016

Commentary: “Brexit Is Bad News for the EU—Not Britain” by Marian Tupy, June 24, 2016

Commentary: “If UK Didn’t Leave the Single Market, What Was the Point of Brexit?” by Ryan Bourne, January 18, 2017

Cato’s Letter: “Brexit and the Power of Optimisim” by Daniel Hannan, February 6, 2017