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Analysis

There’s already liberal vision for UK, Boris. It’s inside EU

by Luke Lythgoe | 13.02.2018

Boris Johnson will tomorrow lay out his vision for a “liberal” Brexit, as previewed in the Guardian. But there’s already a liberal vision for the UK’s future – it’s inside the EU.

What’s more, staying in the EU would help us create a fairer society too – by managing globalisation better than we could if we go solo. What chance of standing up to China dumping cheap steel or multinationals refusing to pay fair taxes if we quit?

In general, liberalism is good. But there’s no need to quit the EU to advance the cause of freedom. The UK, after all, was instrumental in driving forward the EU’s single market. Our banking, consultancy, media, telecoms, energy and aviation industries have thrived as a result. When Margaret Thatcher spearheaded this liberal project, she wanted the “best economic result” for the UK – to steal a phrase from Johnson’s speech.

The EU’s core values are freedom, democracy, the rule of law and peace. The UK played a major role in bringing many former eastern bloc countries into the EU. Before that, the EU expanded southwards into the once-authoritarian states of Spain, Portugal and Greece. Granted, countries like Poland and Hungary are still more illiberal than is desirable, but they’re in a much better place than their former communist neighbours still outside the EU – Ukraine, Belarus or Russia.

As one of Europe’s top powers, the UK can also spread its liberal values beyond EU borders. We played a key role, as an EU member, in the Iran nuclear deal and sanctions over Russia’s invasion of Ukraine. The EU gives us a louder voice when standing up for freedom.

The EU uses its trade deals to spread human rights and open up markets across the globe. The EU refuses to sign trade deals with any country which has not signed up to the Paris climate deal. It can do this because its single market is among the biggest economies in the world. Outside the EU, the smaller British economy would have no such clout. It would be pressured by bully-boy tactics from the likes of Trump’s America.

If we quit the EU, we’ll have less ability to fight for freedom across the world. And we might not even care about it as much at home. Perhaps Johnson’s liberal vision of deregulation will win through. But maybe the Faragian Brexit, which fetishises the throwing up of borders, will triumph. We might even get a weird hybrid of the two. Theresa May certainly isn’t giving a clue about what she wants.

But even if Johnson’s vision of “business convenience” prevails, that won’t be good. Unchecked freedom – for example, for a company to pollute a local waterway, or for financiers to gamble recklessly with the economy –  is bad, often for the most vulnerable citizens.

The Brexit result itself is a reaction against this. We need both a free society and a fair one. Most of the work needs to be done at home. But EU membership helps us advance both objectives. If Johnson really cared about a free and fair world, he’d change his mind and fight Brexit.

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Edited by Hugo Dixon

3 Responses to “There’s already liberal vision for UK, Boris. It’s inside EU”

  • Surely the point that should be made about Boris’s latest vapourings is – yes, the motivation behind the actions which led to the European Union were and are primarily political – the elimination of war between the nations of Europe. When visionaries such as Jean Monnet founded the Coal and Steel Community in 1951 which has ultimately led to the EU their main goal was to use economic co-operation and liberation to make war within Europe unthinkable. In this they have achieved spectacular success and in doing so have also greatly improved the economic performance of the region and the well-being of its citizens.

    Inventing some sort of liberal case for excluding the UK from this or even breaking up the entire Union has no intellectual or beneficial basis whatsoever.
    This is not liberalism – it’s narrow nationalism.

  • So liberal is the EU that the Swiss would love to join. At no stage has liberalism be a driving force of the EU, and with the EPP in ascendancy it won’t be. Even if the FT created this concept of ordo-liberal, which is Corporatism is a new guise, that is no more honest than Boris. In any case while liberal humanism is essential to alloy with other ideologies, in its pure form its brittle and fractures.