Douglas Carswell's Blog

21 OCT 2016

Even Remainers know Brexit means leaving the single market

During the referendum campaign, there was one thing Remainers and Leavers agreed on: that a vote to Leave meant leaving the European single market. Who are Nick Clegg and co. kidding by denying that now?

One of the Remain rearguard's transparent attempts to subvert the referendum result is to make out that Leave voters didn't know what they were voting for. "17.4 million people might have voted for Brexit", they say. "But they didn't vote for a particular kind of Brexit".

"Brexit", they expect us to believe, is just an empty word. It can mean anything you want it to mean. What the majority thought it meant when they voted for it is an unfathomable mystery.

Except, as anyone who was hasn't erased their memory of the last nine months knows, it's not. Throughout the referendum campaign, Brexit campaigners consistently made it clear what a vote to Leave meant. In short:

  • No more EU budget contributions
  • No more freedom of movement
  • Full Parliamentary sovereignty
  • Control over our trade policy – by leaving European customs union
  • Access to – but not membership of – the European single market

The fact that a Leave vote entailed leaving the single market was always a key plank of the Leave campaign. But it wasn't just Brexiteers who said so – although we did, repeatedly. Remainers said so too. The evidence, conveniently compiled by the Daily Politics, is clear (H/T Guido Fawkes).

Voters weren't kept in the dark. On the contrary: the majority made a deliberate choice to quit the single market.


Not because they didn't know what it meant, but because they did. Because single-market membership entails accepting the four freedoms, including freedom of movement. Because – above all – it means Britain couldn't become a sovereign nation again.

Staying in the single market would mean many of Britain's laws would still be made by a foreign, supra-national government without the consent of the British people. The question as to who should make Britain's laws wasn't a side issue in the referendum campaign. It was absolutely central.

Apparently it's too much to expect that trying to impose an outcome that the majority of voters expressly rejected would be beneath the dignity of elected representatives. But they should know better than to think voters won't notice.

20 OCT 2016

Tony - not Hilary - Benn should be MPs' guide to Brexit

MPs have voted for Remainer Hilary Benn to chair the Brexit select committee, rather than Leaver Kate Hoey. The rest of the committee has been agreed behind closed doors by the big parties – so no space for me as UKIP's only MP. Do Parliamentarians really think this is how representative democracy is supposed to work?

Three months since the referendum, many MPs still haven't come to terms with the outcome. In fact, they're still trying to undermine it.

Despite 17.4 million people voting to take back control of our laws, our borders, and our trade policy, some MPs disingenuously claim that Brexit can mean staying inside the European single market and customs union. They think Parliament has the right to block Article 50.

Choosing Hilary Benn – by a margin of 330 votes to 209 – to chair the committee that will scrutinise the work of David Davis and his department is merely Parliament's latest attempt by to block Brexit.

For a brief period, it looked like the referendum might be a wake-up call to the self-serving cartel that dominates Westminster. Apparently not. MPs still seem to think they can get away with ignoring the people they are elected to represent.

This is a dangerous route to go down. The most cocooned of Westminster insiders may not have noticed, but respect for politicians is already at rock-bottom – with good reason. By setting themselves up in opposition to the Brexit majority, MPs risk doing serious damage to public faith in representative democracy. If that happens, what then?

Fans of Hilary Benn might be better advised to heed the words of his late father: "The Parliamentary democracy we have developed and established in Britain is based, not upon the sovereignty of Parliament, but upon the sovereignty of the People".

Tony Benn wrote those words in a letter to constituents forty years ago. They were part of his case against staying in the European common market.

Maybe forty years of common-market membership have made Parliament forget what it's for. Now that we're leaving, it's about time MPs remembered.

13 OCT 2016

Britain didn't vote against globalisation

"Brexit was a rejection of globalisation", glib pundits often tell us. It seems to have escaped their notice that quitting the EU customs union to trade freely with the world was a big plank of the Leave campaign. Britain is fast becoming one of the few countries in the world with broad public support for free trade – and we need to harness it.

Free trade and prosperity go hand in hand. The division of labour – enabling specialisation – is infinitely more efficient than self-sufficiency. As Smith and Ricardo realised over 200 years ago, doing what you're best at and exchanging your product for everything else you need is the way to get maximum return on your labour.

What works for individuals applies to countries too. We are wealthier as a nation by virtue of our businesses specialising in fields in which they have a comparative advantage, and trading their goods and services internationally, than we would be if we tried to produce everything we wanted at home.

Yet, around the world, free trade is facing a backlash. The Doha trade round collapsed. The corporatist fixes the EU calls trade deals keep stalling. And, for the first time in half a century, both the Republican and Democratic candidates for the presidency are running on protectionist platforms.

In this context, it's particularly welcome that Theresa May, along with the International Trade Secretary Liam Fox, have made promoting free trade a priority.

But it's also important to rebut the idea that 17.4 million voted against it. Taking back control from an unelected, foreign government was never about raising barriers to trade.

You don't need to give up control over your laws or your borders to trade freely with people in other countries. Pundits may not be able to understand that, but the people do.

12 OCT 2016

'Industrial strategy' is the kiss of death to progress

George Osborne, Michael Heseltine, and Vince Cable returned yesterday to lecture the Business Select Committee on why politicians like them should impose an 'industrial strategy' on the country from Whitehall. Could there be a better illustration of why central economic planning is a bad idea?

Who forecast twenty years ago that Google, Facebook, or Amazon would now be among the biggest companies in the world? Certainly not politicians or officials.

All three are the result of disruptive innovation – what the Austrian economist Joseph Schumpeter called 'creative destruction'. They succeeded because they offered consumers something that superseded existing products on the market.

The process by which we become better off involves radical change. Few people see it coming – after all, most start-ups fail. But the driving force is always the same: consumer demand.

Which is why the idea of 'industrial strategy' – driven not by consumers but by ministers and mandarins – is absurd. Not just because government fails to spot future demand. But because it actively holds back progress, by artificially perpetuating the products of the present.

Take one of George's signature white elephants: Hinkley Point. Even leaving aside the eye-wateringly high strike price – double the market rate – the project rests on a very shaky assumption: that nuclear technology will be an efficient way to produce energy when the plant opens in some ten years' time. The long-term trend suggests solar power is the technology making big strides in efficiency, while nuclear is stagnating.

That's not to say government should subsidise solar instead. It shouldn't. Subsidy served to extinguish a company's incentive to make a product that can successfully compete on the market. (Solyndra in the US was perhaps a case in point.)

The point is that even if preferential treatment of particular sectors or businesses didn't create perverse incentives, it would still negatively distort the market. Instead of backing what will be big in twenty years, government tends to favour what's fashionable now. Rather than foster disruptive innovation, it entrenches the status quo.

Osborne praised Cameron and May for committing to industrial strategy, which, he said, "was not always in the Conservative lexicon". There's good reason for that. The last Tory PM to prioritise industrial strategy was Ted Heath – and look how that worked out.

When governments try to micromanage markets, progress and prosperity suffer. If that's what we're likely to get from the new government, there's all the more need for a libertarian alternative.

11 OCT 2016

Control must belong to the British people - not political elites

Parliament is a proxy for the will of the people. Taking back control from Brussels to Westminster is ultimately about restoring power to the British people. Those Remain MPs still trying to use Parliament to thwart the popular will by blocking Brexit have forgotten whom they work for.

The reason Article 50 doesn't require Parliamentary approval is very simple: the majority voted for it directly in the referendum. Why do we need the people's representatives to sanction something that the people have already approved?

The only possible purpose in holding a Commons vote on Article 50 would be to block it. The new Shadow Brexit Secretary may have disingenuously denied it at the despatch box, but it's clear recalcitrant Remainers aren't really asking for a vote, but for a veto.

Parliament's newest champions over Article 50 have been strangely silent on the Great Repeal Bill, which will revoke the European Communities Act and restore Parliamentary sovereignty. That bill will go before the House. So why haven't they declared their support for it? Could it be perhaps because they will vote against it?

For long-time Eurosceptics, it's incredible to watch the case for Brexit now being made by government ministers. But it's perhaps even more remarkable to see mostly Labour MPs – who pretend to stand for workers – brazenly representing the ruling classes in opposition to their own constituents.

Margaret Thatcher once said, "we didn't roll back the frontiers of the state in Britain, only to see them reimposed at the European level". By the same token, we didn't vote to end anti-democratic rule from Brussels only to see it re-established by establishment elites in Westminster.

Control belongs to the people. Parliament cannot refuse it to them.

10 OCT 2016

Is this life after Osbrown?

Ever since the Nixon shock in 1971, loose monetary policy has been the norm. Even though the results have been disastrous, policymakers always insist the alternative is worse. But that could be about to change.

Much of Theresa May's domestic agenda raises serious cause for concern. But there was one part of her conference speech which was encouraging: she admitted monetary stimulus has caused growing inequality by stoking asset-price inflation – and she said that needed to change.

She's right. Asset-price inflation transfers wealth from producers to parasites. There's only one word for it: malinvestment. Misesian monetary theory, it seems, is going mainstream.

But what does the PM's critique mean in practice? The Bank of England is responsible for interest rates and quantitative easing, and it is independent from the Treasury. Downing Street has already denied any suggestion of changing that arrangement.

Indeed, even if the government could convince the Bank to tighten monetary policy, it wouldn't be enough by itself to limit asset-price inflation.

A lot of the monetary expansion behind asset-price inflation doesn't come from central banks, but from retail banks. Fractional reserve banking – whereby only a fraction of demand deposits are available for withdrawal – facilitates vast credit creation, much of which flows straight into the property market.

In fact, banks are encouraged to keep reserves low and lending dangerously high by the safety net of not just emergency central-bank bailouts but also government-backed deposit insurance.

Asset-price inflation happens because banks know they can privatise profits, but socialise losses. If the PM is serious about addressing it, that's the perverse incentive she needs to end.

Reports suggest the precise change in policy direction will be announced in the Chancellor's Autumn Statement. After eleven years of listening to Brown, Darling, and Osborne, that might finally be something I look forward to.

06 OCT 2016

Brexit Britain needs better yardsticks

Britain is the fastest-growing economy in the G7, says the IMF. It's great they've admitted they were wrong about post-referendum economic Armageddon. But are the G7 nations – over half of which are in the EU – really the countries we should be measuring ourselves against?

We often hear pundits use the phrase "in Europe" when comparing the UK's relative performance in some area or other. But we need to stop using Europe as the yardstick if we are to be a global success. It's how we are doing relative to the world that counts. 

By comparison to EU countries, for example, Britain – with predicted growth of 1.8% in 2016 – might be doing well.

But compare Britain to other countries with a similar population, and you get a very different picture. South Korea's economy, according to the IMF, is forecast to grow 2.7% this year. Turkey, 3.3%. Thailand, 3.2%. Tanzania, 7.2%. Myanmar (aka Burma), 8.1%.

Obviously, these countries face very different economic issues. Some are still just starting to develop. Others have only recently opened up to foreign trade and investment. None is a perfect analogue to Britain.

Here's the point, though: neither is the Eurozone! The old so-called advanced economies are collapsing under the weight of the failed single currency. We shouldn't be using them as a yardstick.

Brexit isn't just about taking back our sovereignty. It's also about changing our mindset. We need to start seeing ourselves in competition with the world's best performers.

Outside the EU, we can finally aspire to more than being the least broken member of the world's only declining trading bloc. It's time to set our sights higher.

05 OCT 2016

Why Britain needs UKIP

Theresa May is off to a great start. We finally have a prime minister committed to taking Britain out of the EU. Repealing the European Communities Act – not exactly a mainstream position when I proposed it in a private member's bill four years ago – is now government policy.

But alas, during her keynote conference speech, she seemed to advocate statism. She says she wants to "embrace a new centre ground" where the government "steps up, not back". That's why Britain needs an unapologetically free-market alternative: UKIP.

I was saddened by Diane James's decision to resign as UKIP leader yesterday. I hope she and her family are okay.

But I also hope that UKIP can regroup quickly. Not just for the party's sake, but for the country's too.

Theresa May has already created a department for "industrial strategy". She has talked about intervening in corporate boardrooms. Apparently, she's now proposing Ed-Miliband-style price controls on energy.

Trying to micromanage markets, businesses, and individual lives suffocates innovation and stifles freedom. It draws on the worst and most disastrous Conservative ideology: Heathism.

In a decade's time, I suspect the Left will have largely imploded. The tragedy of the 1920s, which saw the Labour party displace the Liberals, will have been undone. Politics will be a contest between a patrician Tory party and a radical liberal party (in the Gladstonian, not American, sense).

The race is on to be that alternative. I hope it will be UKIP.

30 SEP 2016

BBC Brexit bashing needs to stop

"Anger at billionaire's farm subsidies", reports the BBC on the EU's handouts to a Saudi prince. It seems to come as news to Auntie that the EU is a corporatist racket. Maybe if it gave Eurosceptics a bit more airtime, it might have found out sooner.

The BBC has been anything but impartial in its referendum coverage. Its director general, Lord Hall, couldn't name a single programme that has been positive about Brexit since June 23rd. I certainly haven't encountered any. Pro-EU puff pieces, on the other hand, are ubiquitous.

Barely an episode of the Today Programme goes by without a Remain ex-minister telling us how important it is to stay in the single market or the customs union – indulged by sympathetic interviewers.

Its latest hobby horse is the false option of a "soft Brexit" – meaning "EU membership in all but name".

The BBC seems to take it as red that the single market is an economic panacea. Given the state of Europe's economy, that's a pretty shaky assumption. Yet it never seems to occur to BBC journalists that the problem might be crony corporatism in Brussels.

Agricultural subsidies barely scratch the surface of the EU's favouritism for Big Business. With its reams of regulation, the single market is designed to benefit corporations that can afford legions of lobbyists and compliance lawyers. Small businesses don't get a look in – which is why so many backed Brexit.

One of the reasons all the economic growth and progress is happening elsewhere is because the single market successfully strangles disruptive innovation. But you'd never get that impression from the Beeb.

Perhaps, as an organisation that owes its own survival to a funding mechanism that lets it extort the public and exploit an unfair advantage over its competitors, the BBC has a natural affinity for corporatism?

By constantly promoting a continuity Remain narrative, our national broadcaster is actively undermining what the nation voted for. Maybe the next referendum should be on abolishing the licence fee.

29 SEP 2016

Sarkozy is wrong about Brexit - and French voters know it

Nicolas Sarkozy, who couldn't convince French voters he'd be a better president than Francois Hollande, believes he can persuade us to reconsider Brexit. Based on the way his compatriots now feel about the EU, he might be better off doing some rethinking of his own.

Part of Sarkozy's pitch for a presidential comeback is a new EU Treaty. He wants to negotiate a "new Europe". Where have we heard that before?

Every British prime minister for decades has assured us the European project could be reformed. Their broken promises are what made many people realise the only way out was to vote Leave.

Perhaps more interesting is how Sarkozy's plan will play at home. According to recent research by Pew, only 38% of French voters have a favourable view of the EU today, compared to 69% in 2004. It's no coincidence support for the Front National has surged at the same time.

Even in Germany, Euroscepticism is on the rise. The anti-EU AfD party recently beat Angela Merkel's CDU into third place in a regional election.

While the European centre right is still committed to the European project, the peoples of Europe are increasingly Eurosceptic.

It's hardly surprising. From the Greek debt disaster to the migrant crisis to the terror attacks coordinated from Brussels itself, Euro elites have presided over one mess after another. Yet many are so detached from the people they rule they can't even understand why they are resented.

And this is the point: if centre-right leaders keep backing a failed, federalist Europe come what may, they will drive more and more voters into the arms of radical – in some cases, extremist – alternatives.

So, with respect Monsieur Sarkozy, it isn't Britain that needs to think again about its relationship with the EU. It's politicians like you.

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The End of Politics and the Birth of iDemocracy

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