What the American Experience Suggests for Brexit

A few years ago President Barack Obama urged members of the European Union to admit Turkey. Now he wants the United Kingdom to stay in the EU. Even when the U.S. isn’t a member of the club the president has an opinion on who should be included

Should the British people vote for or against the EU? But Britons might learn from America’s experience.

What began as the Common Market was a clear positive for European peoples. It created what the name implied, a large free trade zone, promoting commerce among its members. Unfortunately, however, in recent years the EU has become more concerned about regulating than expanding commerce.

We see much the same process in America. The surge in the regulatory Leviathan has been particularly marked under the Obama administration. Moreover, the EU exacerbated the problem by creating the Euro, which unified monetary systems without a common continental budget. The UK stayed out, but most EU members joined the currency union.

At the same time, European policymakers have been pressing for greater EU political control over national budgets. Britain’s Westminster, the fount of parliamentary democracy worldwide for centuries, would end up subservient to a largely unaccountable continental bureaucracy across the British Channel. In fact, what thoughtful observers have call the “democratic deficit”—the European Parliament is even more disconnected from voters than the U.S. Congress—has helped spawn populist parties across the continent, including the United Kingdom Independence Party.

Britons today face a similar dilemma to that which divided Federalists and Anti-Federalists debating the U.S. Constitution. As I argued in American Conservative: “Unity enlarges an economic market and creates a stronger state to resist foreign dangers. But unity also creates domestic threats against liberty and community. At its worst an engorged state absorbs all beneath it.”

In America the Federalists were better organized and made the more effective public case. In retrospect the Anti-Federalists appear to have been more correct in their predictions of the ultimate impact on Americans’ lives and liberties. This lesson, not President Obama’s preferences, is what the British should take from the U.S. when considering how to vote on the EU.

The decision is up to the British people alone. They should peer across the Atlantic and ponder if they like what has developed.