Political Notes 198, Political Reasons for Leaving the EU (2014), by D.R. Myddelton

Share this



Political Reasons for Leaving the EU

D.R. Myddelton

Political Notes No. 198

ISSN 0267-7059 (print)
ISSN 2042-2776 (online)

An occasional publication of the Libertarian Alliance,
Suite 35, 2 Lansdowne Row, Mayfair, London W1J 6HL.

© 2014: Libertarian Alliance; 
D.R. Myddelton

Professor D.R. Myddelton is Chairman of the Institute of Economic Affairs and a Vice-President of the Society for Individual Freedom and the Chairman of its National Council.  He is also Emeritus Professor of Finance and Accounting at Cranfield University and the author of numerous publications.

This essay is a revised and somewhat expanded version of a talk given by Professor Myddelton to a meeting of the Campaign for an Independent Britain held on the 4th May 2013.  It first appeared in the September 2013 issue of The Individual, the journal of the Society for Individual Freedom.

The views expressed in this publication are those of its author, and not necessarily those of the Libertarian Alliance, its Committee, Advisory Council or subscribers.


Britain’s membership of the European Union may soon be the subject of an ‘In/Out Referendum’.  So those of us who want the United Kingdom to leave the EU are starting to assemble our arguments.

Economic arguments

People who want us to stay in the EU usually focus on economic matters.  As they did when arguing for Britain to join the Common Market in the first place.  But most studies1 show no net economic benefit from our EU membership.

We can trade perfectly well with the continent whether we’re in the EU or not.  America, Brazil, China and other countries manage to trade with the EU from outside.

Some people pretend 3 million British jobs might be lost if we left the EU.  But there’s no reason to expect any permanent job losses.  It’s not as if we gained 3 million jobs when we joined the EU!  Both sides to voluntary market deals normally expect to gain from them – and that’ll remain true whether we stay in the EU or not.

Moreover tariff levels are much lower now than they were back in 1973.  So being outside the EU’s customs union would matter far less than it might once have done.

Exports are 30% of our national output; but less than half our total exports go to other EU countries.  A smaller proportion than any other member-state.  So UK exports to the rest of the EU represent less than 15% of our GDP.  And demographic changes on the continent mean that this fraction – one-seventh – will get even smaller in future.

Meanwhile the economic ‘benefits’ of EU membership, such as they are, apply to less than 15% of our GDP.  But the EU’s extensive regulations and red tape are a disproportionate burden on 100% of our economy.   

No British political leaders currently argue that we should enter the single currency.  If the economic reasons for staying in the EU itself are so strong, one wonders why not?  The fact is, any such suggestion would be laughable. 

Why did we join in the first place?

In 1970, the Common Market was viewed as an economic and trade arrangement and Ted Heath, the Prime Minister, was keen that the UK should enter.  For 25 years after the war the French and German economies seemed to have been relatively successful; while everybody agreed that, by comparison, the British economy had been weak.

In 1973 we did join – together with Ireland and Denmark; and in 1975 we voted by two to one in a referendum to stay in.

After Mrs Thatcher became Prime Minister in 1979, the British economy started to recover, while the continental economies faltered.  So the economic conditions that had made it seem sensible to join the Common Market in the 1960s and early ’70s began to reverse, in the 1980s and ’90s, after we had joined!

Ever since the 1975 Referendum I’ve been arguing for the UK to leave: first the Common Market, then the European Economic Community, then the European Community, and now the European Union.

Confucius said: “A person who’s made a mistake and doesn’t correct it is making another mistake.”  Joining the Common Market more than forty years ago has turned out to be a serious mistake for the UK.  Now we may get the chance to put that right, though an In/Out referendum by 2017 is by no means certain to happen.

Political arguments

In my view, the political arguments against Britain’s membership of the European Union are more important than the economic ones.  That’s not surprising, since from the beginning it’s always been essentially a political project.  But Europhiles always tend to gloss over that aspect.

1. We’re Different From Them

In January 1963, President de Gaulle of France rejected our application to join the Common Market.  He said:

“England is bound by its trade, its markets, its food supplies to the most varied and often very distant countries.  Her activity is essentially industrial and commercial not agricultural.  She has very strong, very individual habits and traditions.  In short, the nature, structure and circumstances peculiar to England are different from those of the other continental countries.”2

He was absolutely right and his words still resonate fifty years later.

I remember the 1975 Referendum asking: ‘Should we stay in?’  The Economist newspaper, strongly pro-EU as always, produced a big book with a yellow cover setting out its economic arguments in detail.  But I just felt, we’re too different from the continental Europeans.  In effect, I shared the Gaullist view!  So I voted ‘No’.

The continental countries’ histories and traditions aren’t the same as ours.  ‘Different’ doesn’t mean ‘better’ or ‘worse’.  But our ways suit us, and many of their ways don’t.  It’s not just the historical experience, but the language, the money, the legal system and the general political culture too.  That’s why we call them ‘foreigners’.

After the war, Churchill was keen to reconcile France and Germany and called for a ‘United Europe’.  But he didn’t envisage us being part of that ‘Europe’.  He told de Gaulle:

“Every time Britain has to choose between Europe and the open sea, it is always the open sea that we shall choose.”3

Anthony Eden, Foreign Secretary for many years, shared that view.  He said:

“Suggestions have been made that the United Kingdom should join a federation on the continent of Europe.  This is something which we know, in our bones, we cannot do.  For Britain’s interests lie far beyond the Continent of Europe.”4

That’s still true today.  The British are an island race of global traders.  We’ve always had a world-wide outlook, rather than a parochial European one.  Far from being Little Englanders, the world is our oyster!

At last year’s Olympic Games in London, athletes from some two hundred nations marched past in the Opening Ceremony.  I reckon about half of those countries had at one time in their history been British colonies or had close links with the British Empire.  That’s a remarkably high proportion.  No other country has anything like such a wide network of overseas connections – on every continent. 

Last year, an opinion poll asked people: “Which of these [five selected] nations would you say Britain has most in common with, culturally, politically and economically?”  2% said India, 10% Germany and 11% France.  But 28% said Australia – more than India, Germany and France combined – and 49% said the United States of America.5

Geography matters much less now than it did even fifty years ago.  Air travel is faster and cheaper, as are telecommunications.  And the internet is revolutionising business.  So being next door to the continent of Europe is no longer that important.

2. There are basic differences in philosophy

There are basic differences in philosophy too.  Britons tend to hold that knowledge depends on experience (one might say ‘trial and error’).  We’re sceptical and cautious, while tolerant of different approaches.  But continental Europeans claim that ideas matter most.  They tend to be less flexible and more dogmatic.

Harold Macmillan expanded on this point, when discussing Concorde, the Anglo-French prestige project.  It was an engineering triumph but a commercial disaster.  He said:

“The difference is temperamental and intellectual.  The continental[s] like to reason from the top downwards, from general principle to practical application … the tradition of St. Thomas Aquinas.  The Anglo-Saxons like to argue from the bottom upwards, from practical experience … the tradition of Bacon and Newton.”6

These contrasts in national style and approach persisted throughout Concorde’s development.  French elite technocrats had trained academically at the Ecole Polytechnique; whereas the British engineers had gone through a long apprenticeship on the shop floor.  The French were more hierarchical; while the British tended to regard a firm instruction from above merely as a basis for discussion.

(This was reminiscent of the Duke of Wellington’s alleged comment on his first Cabinet meeting as Prime Minister in 1830: “An extraordinary affair.  I gave them their orders and they wanted to stay and discuss them!”7)  

3. ‘The nation-state is dead’

More than one European leader has proclaimed that ‘the nation-state is dead’.  That gives a clue to the United Kingdom’s future inside the European Union: disintegration!

The Committee of the Regions aims to foster direct links between the centre and ‘regions’ of member-states.  Thus it by-passes national governments.  That’s why so many regions now have their own offices in Brussels.

Peter Shore suggested that:

“European federalists will pursue any objective provided that it achieves two basic aims: it weakens the powers of the elected governments of nation-states and it strengthens the powers of the European institutions…”8

Europhiles like to talk about increasing the UK’s ‘influence’ in world affairs by being part of a larger and more powerful bloc.  But it’s clear the EU would gladly elbow us out of our Security Council seat at the United Nations.  That’s a strange way to maximise British ‘influence’!

Much of the legislation affecting us now originates abroad, not just from the EU.  (The precise proportion isn’t entirely clear.)  Hayek foresaw such a development in his book The Road to Serfdom.9  If we stay in the EU, how many of our laws will be externally sourced in twenty years’ time?  Will it be even more than the 80 per cent coming from Brussels that Jacques Delors boasted about many years ago?10

Roy Jenkins has been the only British President of the European Commission so far.  In 1999 he said:

“There are only two coherent British attitudes to Europe.  One is to participate fully, and endeavour to exercise as much influence and gain as much benefit as possible from the inside.  [That is what he favoured.]  The other is to recognise that Britain’s history, national psychology and political culture may be such that we can never be anything but a foot-dragging and constantly complaining member; and that it would be better … to move towards an orderly and, if possible, reasonably amicable separation.”11

4. ‘Ever closer union’

The preamble to the Treaty of Rome sets out the EU’s fundamental objective of ‘ever closer union’.  But as David Cameron implied in his Bloomberg speech earlier this year, we in this country have never been comfortable with it.

For a long time most British people simply couldn’t believe the continental politicians were serious about ‘ever closer union’.  Many Eurosceptics still make this mistake.  But be in no doubt: whatever the views of their electorates, the European leaders are deadly serious.  They really do mean it!

Some years ago, the EEC official general guide said:

“Economic integration isn’t meant to be an end in itself, but merely an intermediate stage on the road to political integration.”12

Over the years many political leaders on the continent have clearly explained that what they aspire to is nothing less than a United States of Europe.  Especially, one can’t help noticing, rather a lot of Germans.13

Had it been called ‘The United States of Europe’ from the start, we’d have understood better what we were getting into.  But those British politicians who wanted us to go in realised that such a goal, if openly proclaimed, would have been extremely unpopular.  Ted Heath’s 1971 White Paper was deliberately not telling the truth when it said: “There’s no question of any erosion of essential national sovereignty.”14  This was the lie on which our so-called ‘full-hearted consent’ was sought.

Hardly anyone in Britain wanted to join a United States of Europe in 1972; and hardly anyone in Britain wants to join a United States of Europe today.  It would mean abandoning our national soul to become an insignificant part of a European collective.

For more than four hundred years, a key element in Britain’s foreign policy has been to prevent any single power dominating the continent of Europe: whether Spain, France, Germany or Russia.  We’ve opposed Philip II, Louis XIV, Napoleon, the Kaiser, Hitler and Stalin, sometimes all on our own.

But now, if most countries in Europe want to combine in a single would-be super-state, Qualified Majority Voting means that we British can’t stop them.  We don’t want to join them; but do we even really want to encourage them?  That seems to be our government’s policy.

The 17-strong euro bloc can often now outvote the UK; and this imbalance is likely to get worse over time.  Of the 10 non-euro member-states, all but Denmark and the UK are legally bound to join sooner or later.  So if we were to stay inside the EU, but outside the euro – assuming they both survive – that would eventually make it only 2 countries outside the euro versus 25 in.

Swedenvoted against joining the euro in a referendum in 2003.  The reaction in Brussels and Frankfurt was typical.  Instead of asking: “What’s wrong with the euro?”, their question was: “What’s wrong with the Swedes?”

As far as I know not a single leading British politician, however Europhile, has openly argued for us to be part of a Europe-wide political union.  Not Heath, not Howe, not Hurd, not Heseltine, not Clarke.  This appears to be the urge to merge that dare not speak its name!

The euro experiment has failed, like the snake and the ERM before it.  I well remember the UK’s ejection from the ERM over 20 years ago.  It wasn’t leaving the ERM that was the disaster – it was joining it.  In fact, as soon as we left and reduced interest rates to suit ourselves, the UK economy recovered almost at once.

In the same way, it was setting up the single currency that was the real disaster.  I can’t understand why the British government keeps telling EU leaders to ‘save’ the euro.  Since the euro never made economic sense, ‘saving’ it is a futile policy.

They’ll never be able to agree on an orderly dismantling of the euro.  So a disorderly break-up is now very much on the cards.  The Eurocrats say they’ve got the political will to save the euro.  But let’s remember it was their misguided ‘political will’ that created the mess in the first place!

Another aspect of ever closer union is the EU’s acquis communautaire – the ‘ratchet’.  Which means that powers always flow towards Brussels and the centre, never back towards the member-states.  As Bernard Connolly observed, to offend against it appears to be “a mixture of heresy, blasphemy and treason”.15

Continuing stealthy EU progress towards ‘ever closer union’ has been graphically described as “a coup d’etat by instalments”.16

Could Britain ever convince the rest of the EU to ‘reform’?  Not a chance.  The euro-fanatics, many of them perfectly sincere, are incorrigible. 

5. The rule of law

The European Union doesn’t respect the Rule of Law.  In 1998, there were a dozen applicants to join the new single currency.  Denmark, Sweden and the UK chose not to join, while Greece’s application was put off for two years.

How many of the eleven countries actually met all five of the Maastricht criteria for entry to the euro?  Only one – tiny Luxembourg – with a population of less than 1 per cent of the EU total!  Strictly speaking, therefore, Luxembourg should have broken its currency union with Belgium, entered the euro all on its own, and thus increased by one the number of separate currencies in Europe!

What a paradox for the so-called ‘single currency’ that would have been … if they’d stuck to the rules.  But instead they chose to ignore the terms of a solemn international treaty.  When the rules are inconvenient, that’s what the EU does.

For example, within the first few years both France and Germany blatantly ignored the Stability and Growth Pact.  So the foundations of the experimental single currency were flimsy indeed.  It’s no surprise that it’s now on the verge of collapse.

So far, there have been bail-outs for Greece, Ireland, Portugal and Cyprus, and various kinds of ‘assistance’ for Spain and Italy.  These all clearly breach the terms of the Treaty of Maastricht.

Unelected technocratic governments have been imposed on Greece and Italy; and in the eurozone elected national governments are being thrown out almost every time democratic elections are held.

Earlier this year, the government of Cyprus proposed to seize a chunk of people’s bank deposits despite the absence of any law permitting such action.  This immoral scheme had the approval of the European Commission and the European Central Bank, as well as the IMF.  In the Cyprus parliament there wasn’t a single vote in favour.  One might describe their revised effort as ‘modified confiscation’. 

The EU’s Charter of Fundamental Rights purports to ‘give’ Britons rights we’ve enjoyed under Common Law for a thousand years!  But a sinister clause allows the EU to ‘suspend’ these rights if it deems that to be in its collective interest.   

And, talking of a thousand years, let’s remember that even William the Conqueror in 1066 promised to uphold the laws of England.  The Eurocrats have never done that.

Maitland said the Star Chamber was a court of politicians enforcing a policy, not a court of judges administering law.17  Much the same is true of the European Court of Justice, which sees its main purpose as being to promote European integration.  That’s very different from the British view that law should protect individuals against the state.  Hence habeas corpus and trial by jury – both now under threat. 

Sir Patrick Neill has observed: “A court with a mission is a menace.  A supreme court with a mission is a tyranny.”18

6. The European Union is an alien tyranny

Indeed, I regard the European Union as an alien tyranny.  ‘Alien’, because it’s mostly run by foreigners; and ‘tyranny’, because we can’t throw the rascals out.

We’re happy to trade with people on the continent, as we’ve done for many hundreds of years.  And we’ll gladly play football with them.  (Of course, they don’t play cricket!)  But we don’t want to be ruled by them.

I should perhaps explain that I strongly agree with David Hume, who wanted all our neighbours to prosper.  He expressed this view in the middle of the Seven Years War with France.  But that doesn’t mean we want political union with them. 

The European Union has been carefully designed to be not ‘inter-national’ (between nation-states), but ‘supra-national’ (above nation-states).  So the EU is ‘anti-democratic’.  The ‘democratic deficit’ isn’t just a regrettable by-product.  All along it’s been a deliberately-planned part of this Project of an Empire.

None of the three key EU institutions is elected: The Commission, the Central Bank or the Court of Justice.  And the peoples of Europe certainly don’t regard themselves as belonging to a single country.  So even if there were an elected government of a ‘United States of Europe’, it would hardly be legitimate.

European Union leaders are always desperate to prevent the public expressing their opinion about anything that matters.  And when a referendum can’t be avoided, if the result goes the ‘wrong’ way, the people concerned – the culprits! – are placed on the naughty step.  They’re told to go back and vote again until they get it right!  That’s the EU’s totalitarian mindset.

Many Europeans have experienced that approach within living memory, whether in pre-war Italy or Germany or Spain, or in France during the war, or in the Soviet satellites of Eastern Europe after the war.  Some people may indeed prefer dictatorship to democracy.  But it doesn’t suit the British.  You can hardly imagine Hitler stepping down after the war if he’d lost an election – which is exactly what Churchill did.


If we in this country were to regain our political freedom by leaving the European Union, it would do more to restore national self-confidence than anything else one could imagine.  And, not for the first time, we’d be setting an example for others!

References and Sources

ER= Martin Holmes (ed), Eurosceptical Reader, Macmillan, 1996.

ER2= Martin Holmes (ed), Eurosceptical Reader 2, Macmillan, 2002.

(1) Brian Hindley and Martin Howe, Better Off Out? (2nd ed.), London, Institute for Economic Affairs, 2002.

Ian Milne, Time To Say No, London, Civitas, 2011.

Hugh Gaitskell, Labour Party Conference 1962, ER, pp. 19-20.

Sir Donald MacDougall, quoted by Gaitskell in above speech, ER, pp. 14-15.

Norman Lamont, Selsdon Group speech 11th October 1994, ER, p. 104.

L.J. Sharpe, ‘British Scepticism and the European Union’, ER, p. 331.

(2) De Gaulle, January 1963, UK veto speech, ER, p. 118, different translation.

(3) Max Beloff, ‘Churchill and Europe’, ER, pp. 269-284.

L.J. Sharpe, ER, p. 310.

(4) Anthony Eden, speech to Columbia University, 11th January 1952, ER, p. 307, quoted in Roy Denman, Missed Chances: Britain and Europe In The Twentieth Century, Cassell, 1996, p. 195.

(5) Richard Bridger, Policy Network: Europe Questions, Populus Limited, 30th April 2012, retrieved 27th June 2013, http://www.policy-network.net/uploads/media/17/7907.pdf.

(6) Harold Macmillan, quoted in Peter Hennessy, Having It So Good: Britain in the Fifties, Allen Lane, 2006, pp. 285-6.

(7) Arthur Wellesley, 1st Duke of Wellington, quoted in various sources.

(8) Peter Shore, speech to Bruges Group, 24th July 1990, ER, p. 46.

(9) F.A. Hayek, Road to Serfdom, Routledge & Kegan Paul, 1944, ch. 15: ‘The Prospects of International Order’, pp. 163-176.

(10) Cited by various sources, e.g. Annette Toeller, ‘Claims that 80 per cent of laws adopted in the EU Member States originate in Brussels actually tell us very little about the impact of EU policy-making’, http://blogs.lse.ac.uk/europpblog/2012/06/13/europeanization-of-public-p..., 13th June 2012, retrieved 2nd June 2013.

(11) Roy Jenkins, 22nd March 1999, quoted in Christopher Booker: ‘Nice and Beyond’, ER2, p. 241.

(12) Quoted by Conor Cruise O’Brien in Peter Gowan & Perry Anderson (eds.), The Question of Europe, Verso, 1997, p.78.

(13) Here are a dozen Germans who have called for political union in Europe: Commission President Walter Hallstein;  President Roman Herzog;  Chancellors Konrad Adenauer, Willy Brandt, Gerhard Schroeder and Helmut Kohl;  Bundesbank Presidents Karl Blessing, Helmut Schlesinger and Hans Tietmeyer;  Foreign Minister Joshka Fischer;  Finance Minister Hans Eichel;  and Maastricht negotiator Horst Kohler.

(14) The United Kingdom and the European Communities, HMSO White Paper, Cmnd. 4715, July 1971, ER, p. 318.

(15) Bernard Connolly, The Rotten Heart of Europe, Faber & Faber, 1995, p. 10.

(16) Christopher Story, The European Union Collective: Enemy of its Member-States, Edward Harle, 2002, p. 169.

(17) F.W. Maitland, The Constitutional History of England, Cambridge University Press, 1908/1961, p. 263.

(18) Patrick Neill, Baron Neill of Bladen, quoted in various sources.