Freedom and independence were the misleading rallying cries of the Brexiteers. But, as Denis Macshane explains, we may well have lost more than we’ve gained
1. Our freedom to live without let or hindrance in 27 other European nations
2. Our freedom to refer to a different source of judicial authority in business and trade questions if our judges are repressive and reactionary.
3. Our freedom to sell Marmite and muffins, Land Rovers and Nissans without hindrance in a market of 450 million middle-class consumers on our doorstep.
4. Our freedom to fall in love and create a family with people from 27 other countries here in the UK without requiring prior permissions from state bureaucrats.
5. Our freedom to buy, build or rent a home in every corner of the world’s most beautiful continent.
6. Our freedom to proclaim as Socrates did: ‘I am neither Athenian nor Greek but a Citizen of the World.’
7. Our freedom to dream of a world in which post national rule of law co-exists with the common or statute law of the nation.
8. Our freedom to have rights as a woman, a worker, a homosexual, a green, which are enshrined in international law and cannot be changed by fickle national politics.
9. Our freedom to live in a community of nations covering half a billion people without fear of being executed for any kind of crime.
10. Our freedom to know that all the above freedoms can be handed on to our children and grandchildren.
One ignored aspect of the debate around quitting the EU is how, if the full destructive Brexit proposed by some takes place, Britain will lose core freedoms we now take for granted.
The advocates of Brexit argue that the country will become free once the shackles of Europe are cast off. Like Mel Gibson in Braveheart the cry of ‘Freedom!’ resonated from the platforms of UKIP and Tory politicians during the decades-long campaign to take us out of Europe.
Getting the balance of freedom right is not that easy. A rather sizeable 99.6% of the EU population are willing to improve trade links with Canada but 0.4% in a French speaking part of Belgium are not. Therefore the will of the 99.6% is jettisoned until finally common sense prevailed.
On June 23, 37% of the total electorate voted for Brexit. This has been sacralised as the entire nation speaking as one as if it was the summer of 1940 and Theresa May was Churchill with every corner of the UK shaking its fist at the foe across the Channel.
But can an English nationalist vote confiscate Scotland’s right to be European? How do we reconcile the ComRes poll showing 49% of Leavers putting a higher priority on a maintaining trade access with 39% who say stopping Europeans from coming here is more important?
At a stroke English nationalism confiscated those freedoms. It is the perfect right of those who favour isolation from Europe to say that the Brexit vote has gained new freedom for Britain to do what it likes without ever again having to have regard for other nations in the EU.
Our firms may find that when they hope to merge and their products or services will go on sale in the EU that the merger will have to be agreed by the European Commission. Or if they assert their freedom not to pay taxes like Apple they may face fines. And the freedom to fill in millions of customs forms to sell a single product across the Channel requires a massive new state bureaucracy and endless new form filling once we leave the EU Customs Union.
Time will tell whether the freedoms we will lose will be matched by the as-yet untested freedoms that enthusiasts for Brexit proclaim will henceforth lift us to a higher level of existence.
The debate on the balance between different freedom has provided work to philosophers throughout the ages. Britain doesn’t really do philosophy. Perhaps it is time we began.
Denis MacShane is the former Minister of Europe and author of Brexit: How Britain Left Europe published by IB Tauris