Anguish among the Brexiteers is palpable in these long days of summer, even to your diarist on the far shores of Nova Scotia. Proponents of Britain’s exit from the European Union must suffer not only the daily insults of Remainers and other Europhiles, plus the hostile press, but dissension in the ranks of Britain’s own cabinet ministers, most the chancellor, Philip Hammond.
In an interview with the French daily Le Monde, Mr. Hammond said that he “would expect us to remain a country with a social, economic and cultural model that is recognizably European.” The BBC reports that “tax raised as a percentage of the British economy ‘puts us right in the middle’ of European countries,” according to Mr. Hammond, who added, "We don't want that to change, even after we've left the EU.”
We haven ‘t heard such absurdity since “1066 and All That.”
There was a time when personal enterprise was encouraged. Such drive fueled the amazingly productive period of the Industrial Revolution when the Empire spanned the globe. Is Britain returning to the sclerotic 1960s and 1970s when the nation was hamstrung by Marxist labor, high tax rates directed by redistributionist policies, the folly of pursuing the equality of a “classless society,” and the nationalization of key industries and services? A time when entrepreneurial initiative, economic growth, and upward mobility were frowned upon, when the Establishment goal was simply “the orderly management of decline”?
A quick perusal of the Heritage Foundation’s “economic freedom index” — based on such criteria as rule of law, government size, regulatory efficiency, and open markets — places the United Kingdom 12th on the list. The EU’s two main protagonists, Germany and France, don’t even make the top 25, placing 26th and 72nd, respectively. But two European countries are in the top 10, with Switzerland placing 4th and Ireland 9th.
Countries nurtured under the British example break in at the top 5: Hong Kong (1), Singapore (2), New Zealand (3), and Australia (5). Canada ranks 7, while the United States lags at 17. One can be sure that as the Trump administration prepares for a series of tax cuts to spur capital investment, lighten the middle-class tax load, and repatriate corporate earnings abroad, President Trump isn’t hesitating to “make America great again.”
Hence the logic of what the Sun calls a “liberty bloc” of countries embodying the principles of limited government and free trade, much in line with Heritage’s index criteria. Brexit ministers chaffing under the EU tariff and regulatory yoke doubtless do likewise. Mr. Hammond himself once espoused this position.
Fleet Street never tires of embarrassing politicians by quoting conflicting statements back to them. In a January interview with the German broadsheet Welt am Sonntag, Mr. Hammond, asked his thoughts of reaching a cooperative deal with the EU, replied that, while optimistic, “you can be sure we will do whatever we have to do.” Reasoned the chancellor: “If we have no access to the European market, if we are closed off, if Britain were to leave the European Union without an agreement on market access, then we could suffer from economic damage at least in the short-term.”
The chancellor then doubled-down on his case for British economic self-preservation. “In this case, we could be forced to change our economic model and we will have to change our model to regain competitiveness,” Mr. Hammond said, raising the possibility of Britain becoming a tax haven. So why the about-face, sceptical Brexiteers ask?
They can take a lesson from JFK. At the height of the Cuban Missile Crisis, with President Kennedy receiving conflicting cables from Premier Khrushchev, one with the offer of an olive branch, its successor with sabre-rattling, the president and his advisors chose to ignore the more menacing missive and focus on the earlier path to peace. Brexiteers should follow suit, focus on making the most of their nascent global opportunities and put the stifling EU regulatory burdens behind them.