A Unilateral, Decentralist Britain

With a referendum on Britain’s continued membership of the European Union on the way, I think this could be the best time for libertarians and conservatives of all parties and organisations to start making the case for the development of truly libertarian, small-state ideas alongside a commitment to vote ourselves out of the EU. By leaving this undemocratic, protectionist super structure, we have the potential to move towards free markets, free trade, localism and economic decentralisation in all areas of political and economic life. As the EU currently stands, it is a corporatist, bureaucratic organisation run in the interests of big business and big government. Being basically a customs union, it doesn’t truly believe in free trade and free markets based on competition and entrepreneurialism, but rather wants to make government a stalwart part of a rigged economy, where debt and largesse are the order of the day and any idea of small or even no government is quashed. Thus when the referendum comes, not only should libertarians be calling for us to leave, but should also start pushing ideas and policies that move us closer toward a smaller, significantly less powerful state where many political and economic powers are localised or eliminated altogether, where taxation becomes fairer and based more on choice and use and where trade is left to be decided by businesses and individuals, rather than corporate lobbyists and government officials. Here I will make my own case for such a system.

One of the main issues surrounding the EU today is that of trade. We are constantly told that the main benefit of continued EU membership is trade. However, we can see this is a fallacy, as EU trade output globally has reduced to 17% and is on course to reduce further. Also, Britain actually has a trade deficit with the EU, meaning they export more to us than we do to them. When it comes to free trade with the rest of the world, the EU again fails miserably. The EU itself provides massive subsidisation to agricultural corporations, as well as limiting access to our food markets from areas such as Africa and South America. And when it comes to actual trade deals, we see the corporatist elements of the EU really come alive. The most prevalent example would be TTIP. As it stands, TTIP is a corporatist trade agreement that gives greater powers to multinational corporations through things such as ISDS and regulatory harmonisation, meaning regulations aren’t eliminated but are combined and changed to be nominally similar. This both gives legal privilege to corporations over citizens/individuals as well as heightening regulations that benefit MNCs and destroy small business, thus not creating any sort of level playing field and instead reducing competition and creating more of the corporatism seen in Europe and America today. If we are to leave the EU, I believe Britain should go in the opposite direction. We should look to moving towards a unilateral free trade position in the international world, where we eliminate our own barriers of regulation, tariffs and subsidies, allowing for a flexible investment climate and an environment extremely friendly to small businesses, creating massive competition and spurring economic growth, as well as allowing for more flexible employment, hopefully moving us away from the debt-ridden, low-pay economy we see ourselves in today. Further, by the elimination of such regulations, we can allow for the rebuilding of dying industries, such as heavy manufacturing, which since being crippled during Thatcher’s premiership, haven’t been allowed to truly redevelop due to excessive employment regulation, health and safety law and a high tax environment, which have come from both British governance as well as numerous EU directives and regulatory frameworks. In terms of compliance to EU economic regulation which would still exist on the continent, it should be left to companies to comply with such regulation when they trade with Europe. The regulations and trading terms in question would most likely be decided through some of free trade agreement or through membership of the EFTA, similar to Norway or Switzerland. Then the terms of this agreement would be complied to by individual companies who chose to trade with the EU, and the mechanism of enforcing these compliances should be done through European courts, thus leaving it up to companies to decide how they deal with the cornucopia of EU regulation. It should be remembered that only 15% of businesses trade with Europe, and that by leaving the EU we give the power to business to decide whether they comply with EU regulation. This then allows businesses international flexibility, as due to the creation of a small-state that allows to trade and investment to come in naturally, creating FTAs with other countries would be relatively easy as complying to regulations affecting places such as India, Brazil or America, as well as the EU, would be left to companies who would want to trade with such nations and the markets that preside within them. By pursuing a unilateral free trade direction, we allow for economic decision making to be put into the hands of those who actually use it, those being individuals, communities and businesses, thus creating economic and political decentralisation in the UK.

By leaving the EU, we are also able to leave behind the pernicious regulations that are placed upon British companies, decreasing costs in areas such as energy, manufacturing, finance and labour. It also gives us a unique opportunity to look towards decentralising and eliminating economic regulations within our own economy. Now regulation is a contentious issues, with many seeing regulation as necessary to temper the largesse and abuse of some companies. However, this does not mean regulation works across the board. This is why regulatory powers should be passed over to voluntary groups, such as private interest groups, trade unions, employers unions, guilds and NGOs. This way, regulation will always fit the particular situation, and will not be exploited by large companies looking to gain an advantage over smaller competitors. The current regulatory framework that we see is only of benefit to a business and political elite, as competition is strangled and large multinationals are able to create the conditions of the low-pay economy seen in Britain. In terms of taxation, we can move along a similar path. We should look to eliminating a large raft of taxes, such as capital gains, corporation taxes and business rates, as well looking to reduce government size to potentially 20 or even 10% of GDP. We could also look into localising most if not all forms of taxation to local government and give people decision-making power over their tax revenues via taxation referendums, thus moving toward voluntary governance and taxation. This would present a real example of choice being given to taxpayers in how their money is spent, potentially meaning the elimination of government waste and the move toward shareholder-based ideas of government, where the democratic space which one occupies becomes the property of voters and taxpayers. Further, we could allow individuals to decide what political or economic authority their property was based in, again introducing voluntaryist ideas into forms of democratic governance. These concepts are similar to idea of Hoppe’s covenant communities or Bookchin’s communalism, whereby political decision-making and the laws that govern their collective property are decided in small-scale, direct democracy forums. This presents an extreme version of localism, where a multitude of political powers are left in the hands of individuals acting collectively. However, these ideas are already being presented in one form or another by politicians such as Douglas Carswell and Greg Clark, where there is a developing consensus that the decentralisation of economic and political power is both desirable and economically necessary.

The most contentious issue surrounding the EU is immigration. According to current polls, a majority of people in Britain want some form of controlled immigration, where both numbers and quality are regulated. Thus, following from political decentralisation, I believe border controls and the regulation of incoming immigrants should be left to counties and cities, where such political entities can choose to work together to regulate the numbers of people coming to live within their area as well as the economic quality they believe they need for their area. This can be done by giving the power to create and distribute visas to such entities, as well as allowing them to grant residency permits. This way, areas that have particular skill shortages can decide how many economic migrants they take in as well as deciding on things like refugee policy. This means any form of immigration reflects the local economic needs and the infrastructure that is available to cope with such influxes. If this is combined with the concept of direct, voluntary democracy along propertarian lines proffered previously, it allows for people to make their own decisions on how immigration is dealt with, and ends the political football that it has become in recent years.

The policies and ideas I’ve set out may not be agreeable to every libertarian or conservative. Indeed I see the ideas I’ve set out as a stepping stone toward the eventual elimination of the state and the development of a voluntaryist, propertarian society. However, by having the potential to leave the European Union, everybody, whether an anarcho-capitalist, minarchist, small-state conservative or traditionalist, has an opportunity to develop the seeds of a small, non-interfering state that allows for spontaneous order and the proliferation of free markets and economic prosperity, as well as the maintenance of our own traditions and culture. Together, I believe we can bring these ideas to the fore of modern politics and even potentially have them realised through real policy.

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