The case for leaving the EU isn’t about free trade or immigration

Europe as an area with free movement of goods and people is all very well. But the EU is bent on "ever closer union". And that's why we should leave, says John Stepek.


The EU is all about "ever closer union"

I went to an event on Brexit the other night.

It was primarily making the case for "leave". There were a couple of political heavy hitters there, who made their views eloquently enough. Nothing you won't already know.

But for me, the most interesting insight came from the "remain" speaker

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What the EU means to believers is very different to our view of it

The most interesting contribution to the Brexit event I attended the other night came from an Italian speaker. He was there to provide something of a "minority report", as someone who thought Britain should remain within the EU.

I always find it fascinating to get a view of the EU from someone within continental Europe who actually believes in the project. We don't hear that enough in the UK.

And it's very useful. Because it rapidly becomes very clear that they have an utterly different take on the EU to even the keenest British "remain" people.

For me, the most telling point is that continental Europeans who are keen on the EU have no shame at all about acknowledging that the EU is about ever greater union. They don't have a problem with admitting it in public. They see this as the whole point.

This is a very fundamental perception gap, and one that really matters. The "remain" camp in Britain contains very few people who would argue publicly for ever closer union (not since the eurozone crisis, at least).

The debate is generally framed as being about whether or not we want to be part of a free trade area. And when you frame it like that, the idea of walking out seems somewhat foolhardy. Why would you do it?

A vote to "remain" is a vote for the status quo. A vote to "leave" is a weird decision to give two fingers to our existing trade partners in the hope of getting a better deal from a global superpower that really couldn't give two hoots about us, and an emerging superpower that basically feels the same.

The problem is that this isn't true. It never has been. And it doesn't matter how many bland reassurances David Cameron gets about "ever closer union" being off the cards. The entire bureaucratic structure of the EU was built on ever-closer union. A few lines in a treaty won't change that.

For me, this is the core reason why Brexit makes sense. It doesn't seem terribly helpful to be a member of a club that wants something that we are implacably opposed to. The EU wants ever closer union. We don't.

If you frame it like that, then in effect, the "remain" argument is that we should sit inside the tent, being as disruptive as we possibly can, rather than sit outside the tent and let everyone get on with it. And when you put it like that, I can see why a significant number of Europeans must think: "I do hope they vote to leave".

A United States of Europe is fine if that's what the people want

Of course, the tricky thing with the ever closer union argument is that the British are far from being the only voters in the EU who have no desire to be tied together as part of a United Europe. It just so happens that we're getting a referendum on the topic.

To be clear, I don't have any problem at all with other countries who have a desire to merge as a United States of Europe (USE maybe needs a better acronym). In fact, it's the only way that the euro in the long run makes sense.

And countries with grossly different economies and even political cultures have merged in the past. You only need to look at the gap between East and West Germany before reunification. That re-merging process was not easy, but there's never been any real suggestion that it wouldn't happen or that it would ever be reversed.

Britain must leave the EU.

And we must do so at the earliest possible opportunity before our country is imprisoned and stripped of its sovereignty for good.

In your free report - 'A "Make or Break" Time for Britain', you'll discover the truth about what Brexit

However, it only works if the people the voters want it to work. History amply demonstrates to us that when you impose artificial borders and artificial unity on a group of human beings, it tends to blow up nastily, and usually in your face.

So what I do question about the whole European project is whether or not they genuinely have the "buy-in" from their electorates to forge ahead with it. Because if they did, then the question of the Greek crisis and Grexit would never have arisen. Germany would have given Greece money, and Greece would have tried harder to be a good citizen of the USE.

And ultimately, this is the reason I think we'd be better off out of it. The EU is a mess because like it or not, there is this hubristic unification project at the heart of it. And I suspect that many other EU nations are glad that the UK is a member, because we act as a curmudgeonly brake on its worst excesses and a lightning rod for criticism.

If we leave, then it might force the EU to take a proper look at itself, and encourage some transparency and an acknowledgement of realities that are currently being glossed over largely by money printing and political wishful thinking.

Maybe we get a two-speed EU. Maybe we get a split in the eurozone. Maybe the whole thing just decides to lumber on in self-deception. But at least we'll have tried.

In the next issue of MoneyWeek magazine, Merryn talks to Bernard Connolly, author of The Rotten Heart of Europe. If you're not already a subscriber,sign up here.

John Stepek

John is the executive editor of MoneyWeek and writes our daily investment email, Money Morning. John graduated from Strathclyde University with a degree in psychology in 1996 and has always been fascinated by the gap between the way the market works in theory and the way it works in practice, and by how our deep-rooted instincts work against our best interests as investors.

He started out in journalism by writing articles about the specific business challenges facing family firms. In 2003, he took a job on the finance desk of Teletext, where he spent two years covering the markets and breaking financial news. John joined MoneyWeek in 2005.

His work has been published in Families in Business, Shares magazine, Spear's Magazine, The Sunday Times, and The Spectator among others. He has also appeared as an expert commentator on BBC Radio 4's Today programme, BBC Radio Scotland, Newsnight, Daily Politics and Bloomberg. His first book, on contrarian investing, The Sceptical Investor, was released in March 2019. You can follow John on Twitter at @john_stepek.