From time to time I ponder the importance in our times to thinking of what someone in the past would do , and as it happened that in the aftermath of a massive victory by Britain’s conservatives in what was thought by many (obviously incorrect) pundits to be looking like a hung parliament, I was also reading a couple of books by Margaret Thatcher that were more than a little bit a propos to the situation. So in light of an election that appears to provide a way forward for Prime Minister Boris Johnson to enact Brexit with no excuses, let us wonder what Margaret Thatcher would do when it comes to the questions for politics on both sides of the pond, even if Thatcher was certainly far different temperamentally to Trump and Johnson and similar leaders in the world today.
First of all, it should be recognized that Margaret Thatcher was by no means a Europhile and spent her entire career deeply critical of the way that Europe operated and the suffering that would result to Britain as a result of the problems of European bureaucracy and the lack of congruence between British interests and European behavior. To be sure, Great Britain will always need to work with the subcontinent that begins on the other side of the English Channel and the North Sea, but it need not do so on European terms and has a lot to offer as a more independent party that can make its own deals and not be tied to some pretty defective ways of operating that are more common in Europe and that are enshrined in Europe’s bloated bureaucracy and its corrupt attempts to dominate the regulatory regimes of the entire world. Thatcher had some very critical comments to make about the EU and those comments reflect her Euroskepticism in ways that should be recognized and appreciated.
Is the UK better off without the EU? Almost certainly. There are, of course, going to have to be various costs spent in untangling the UK from some European institutions, but the freedom from burdensome restrictions and the ability to negotiate better free trade deals with not only the EU but with other countries (like the US, China, and others) gives British companies the ability to work on a more beneficial free trade basis rather than being held hostage to European protectionism. Also, the saved money from Europe’s subsidy regime to poorer nations will also be more money in the pocket for British taxpayers, and the ability to set a stronger immigration policy as opposed to Europe’s mess of a refugee system will also be ways that the UK can be dramatically improved by giving it some distance from the rest of the European experiment, even if there will likely be some collaboration with the EU on various matters of common interest and concern to be done on a bilateral basis.
There is something more as well. Margaret Thatcher believed that it was important for the UK to set a tone when it came to the behavior of nations, and in seeking to leave the EU the UK can provide an example for other nations who are undecided about how integrated they want to be with the rest of Europe, and can provide a check on the sort of bullying that the EU will do for nations like Poland and Hungary that have a stronger nationalist identity than some other European nations. By providing nations with an out in case the EU and its behavior is too intolerable, the UK, in exiting the EU and still dealing with it as a free external party, can provide evidence that the greater pulls of centralization within Europe are by no means inevitable, and that it is possible to regain sovereignty that may have been lost in the madness of assuming that Europe would end up being a dream and not a nightmare to those within it. Regardless of how long or how difficult the process is, the example and insight of Margaret Thatcher can still provide wisdom for those of us who have to deal with the present, and we can be glad for that.
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