Psychology suggests we’re more likely to fail if we believe we’re going to fail: optimists who look forward to a successful future are more likely to succeed. That applies to people, to communities and to nations. Too many Britons are worried by what we may lose when we leave the European Union and don’t recognise many positives. This goes back to the negative Remain campaign which warned of mass unemployment and economic devastation. It didn’t happen as (or when) predicted but the tone remains among Remainers.
“It is lack of confidence, more than anything else, that kills a civilisation. We can destroy ourselves by cynicism and disillusion, just as effectively as by bombs.” (Sir Kenneth Clark)
There’s been a bounce in Theresa May’s approval ratings, perhaps not all to do with sneaking past the EU’s Stage 1 negotiation obstacles (Salisbury poisonings perhaps?). She visited the four home nations talking of optimism. It’s a start but her government’s actions must show confidence too. As we reported in  the EU Council’s Stage 2 negotiating guidelines repeatedly stress a ‘level playing field’ (meaning for tax and regulation). They’re afraid of competition but competition is a spur to innovation, which is very probably what led to Europe’s rise, and its elimination is now leading to its relative decline . Optimism requires us to be unafraid of the challenges.
Some who are not strongly Europhile nevertheless feel that on balance we could be losers by leaving. Apart from the purported economic gloom there may be three implicit assumptions underlying that feeling, which are that the EU is:
* at worst, harmless;
* at least somewhat beneficial;
* assured of its own future.
We see it as somewhat malign, a drag on our economy, alien to our legal and democratic traditions, and unlikely to survive in a similar form to today’s. We have addressed these views in previous posts [3, 4, 5, 6].
Those who are old enough will remember when Britons felt their country was pretty significant to the world and how we lost confidence, especially during the ‘70s. Then we saw it revive; many attribute that to EU membership rather than to our own reforms but, as with claims of keeping the peace, there are better explanations . We also question whether Ireland’s recovery from the financial crash was helped by the EU and whether Greece or Italy are benefiting now [8, 9, 10].
It is well known that older people were more likely to vote to leave and younger ones to remain. We want the best future for our children but in other member countries it is the young who suffer unemployment and join anti-EU parties. The EU cannot carry on as it is, it will change dramatically or half its citizens will be seriously impoverished (as many are already) . The changes may not be good for our young people but they don’t have experience of an alternative. However there isn’t a status quo, it is at least as big a risk to remain as to leave. Brexit has to be a binary decision, we mustn’t be half-in and half-out; we need to be positive or it may not work out well. Perhaps the oldies can reassure the young, from their experience, that they are not doomed.
The patronising hauteur and outright bullying from the EU towards Britain should make us all consider its motivation. The punishment goes well beyond ensuring that there will be no free ride for those who don’t pay. And we have paid [12, 13]. If it had confidence in its mission the EU would express regret at our leaving, wish us well on our lonely travel and hope we might rejoin them in their brighter future. And rather than forcing others to remain it should be encouraging them to stay by proving it can respond to very real and present problems. But it knows it has many sceptics in its remaining realms and intends us harm ‘pour encourager les autres’. The bravado is a cover, the EU has no credible strategy to overcome the severe challenges it faces .
Why should we be happy that we’re leaving?
Let’s begin by continuing with the gloom, but in reverse – we’ll be safer outside the EU when the next financial crises strikes so let’s try to escape in time. We’ve often said that economic forecasting is unreliable but the last 150 years have shown that cycles occur even if we can’t predict their timing. With increasing globalisation these cycles become more synchronised but the EU is especially vulnerable to the next big shock, which could wreck the eurozone. Many of its banks are only surviving because of the ECB’s medicinal injections – its Quantitative Easing (QE) programme – and this is winding down, on Germany’s insistence. Whilst German citizens have grumpily tolerated bailouts for Greece so far they will not do that for much bigger economies . The risks are huge and the UK will be affected too so we need to put greater distance between us and them. It is the common currency that has blocked the normal escape valves; the chances are high that they will be forced open again and the EU will be sunk, or at least massively diverted from its course.
The EU’s path has always been towards greater complexity. With every treaty and every ‘competence’ it acquires it becomes harder and more costly to manage. Correspondingly the benefits to its citizens diminish and are probably negative now. The people have noticed and resistance is increasing; UK citizens in general have never seen the greatest benefits so have been in the vanguard of the disenchanted. Some elites, large corporations and financial institutions have benefited or at least had an easy ride they don’t want to end. Then there is a substantial minority who believe the world is (or will be) nicer when we stick together; they don’t seem to notice or mind the smell of the glue.
But what are some of the positives we should be talking about?
We will never be forced to join the euro nor be disadvantaged by the EU being run in its own political interest, or to save itself. We will be less exposed to its fundamental flaws and not required to bail out those trapped by it.
We can have a more competitive economy, less weighed down by excessive and unnecessary regulations, which are often imposed to favour special interests (e.g. the CAP and France).
We will be free to make our own choices, and to correct them if necessary. For example, we can go for unilateral free trade, basic WTO trade, protectionist trade or join FTAs where we can (which will be easier without the EU’s protectionist rules). Major economies representing over two thirds of the global economy have expressed their wish to agree an FTA with the UK, though that may take a while.
We can reduce net immigration without favouring those without familial connections or the skills we need over others with stronger claims.
We can nationalise key industries, or privatise them, or subsidise them according to our own preference.
We can seek to maximise employment or protect workers already in jobs (these policies can sometimes be in opposition as France is discovering).
We can spend our own money where it’s needed instead of getting only some of our payments back but spent according to an agenda we don’t control.
We can revive our coastal towns by rebuilding their fishing industries;
We can buy the best and cheapest food or clothes from wherever they are produced.
We have already seen indications that we’ll be OK: employment is up, manufacturing is up, exports are up, foreign investors are undeterred. There is nothing so far to suggest that leaving will be a major problem or that we will be unable to recover from such problems as do occur. Meanwhile the EU’s overall trend has been downwards for three decades (it had 30% of global GDP in 1980, it’s now 15% and falling). Where will things stand in 10 years?
These topics are explored further in the following posts (click them to view in a separate tab):
 The Euro – Decline and Fall
 What this country needs is a benign dictatorship
 Shorties-11: Pigs Can Fly
 Italian Election
 Zone In or Zone Out?
 Who Wants the Euro?
 The European Project: Some History
 Shorties-12: One size fits all
 France, Germany & EU
 Germany calling the shots