BY JAMIE FOSTER
In a widely read opinion piece in the New York Times by Thomas L Friedman it has been suggested that the UK has gone mad (the United Kingdom has gone mad, April 2 2019). Remainers are tweeting links to the article to each other as proof that they are right. The basis of the article is that Brexit is a bad idea because the rest of the world is so interconnected and the only way to have a voice in the modern world is to be part of a larger bloc like the EU. Friedman states that modern states need to be open to immigration and Britain has just put up a large sign saying ‘Go Away’.
The article is essentially wrong. It takes the perspective of the Remainers as the truth and builds on it. It fails to recognise the essential truths that give the lie to its central premise. Take immigration for example. The EU is not open to immigration from the rest of the world; it has huge hurdles in the way of anyone who would seek to move here from the rest of the world. By removing freedom of movement from the EU we are only putting EU citizens on the same footing as citizens from the rest of the world. It will then be up to us how we use the immigration system that we develop. If we want and need mass immigration then we can make it happen. That is the meaning behind being in control of immigration. It is the choice over who comes in and when, rather than having it imposed upon us.
Similarly there is no reason why, in an interconnected world, we should not stay interconnected with as much of the world as possible post Brexit. The web allows us to sail past national borders and join up with people in countries around the world. We can be as open to interconnectedness as we wish to be in a post Brexit world. There is nothing that requires us to be members of the EU in order to make the most of the possibilities of interconnectedness. New Zealand is not a member of the EU but there is no suggestion that New Zealand can’t embrace the new interconnectedness because of that. In fact the heart of modern interconnectedness is that it brings individual people and companies together. It is not subject to the country level negotiation that the older diplomacy was based upon. Now people join up with each other without waiting for a formal invitation from their leaders.
The idea that the only way we can have a voice in the world is by being part of a bloc as large as the EU is also for the birds. Britain has a voice because Britain is a leading country in the world. There is nothing that is going to wipe out our history when we leave membership of the EU. We will still remain one of the largest economies in the world. We will also retain our links with the Commonwealth (if anything these are likely to get stronger). As we develop new relationships with countries outside the Commonwealth our voice will become stronger.
The idea that the only countries anyone listens to are the biggest is nonsense. It is one of those assumptions that prove to be a very unstable basis for theories about the world. Our voice in the world will be determined by our place in the world. As long as we have a democracy that the world looks to and an economy that the world trades with we will have a voice that the world listens to.
The article Friedman wrote is replete with Project Fear themes. The idea that somehow membership of the EU brought with it internationalism is the opposite of the truth. The EU at its heart is a protectionist project. It exists to keep the rest of the world at bay. By leaving it we give ourselves the opportunity to embrace the rest of the world. Our continuing relationship with the EU will be what we make it. There is no reason it shouldn’t be a close and mutually beneficial relationship. All we need to do to have a bright post Brexit future is to continue being as British as possible. We must remain open to the rest of the world and welcome its contribution to our way of life as we have always done. We can show that we don’t need a protectionist bureaucracy to guide our relationship with the rest of the world. We can get on and forge that relationship for ourselves.