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Mark Littlewood on the EU referendum


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A statement from Mark Littlewood, IEA Director General:

Why I changed my mind

Twenty years ago, I was a passionate and enthusiastic supporter of European integration. I was President of the UK branch of the Young European Federalists in 1996 and my first job was working for the European Movement. I was enthusiastic about the UK joining the single currency and I even supported the Pro-Euro Conservative Party, a breakaway from the Conservatives on the issue of Britain’s relationship with the EU.

Since then, and bit by bit, my thinking has evolved and the European Union, in my judgment, has increasingly become a force for heavy handed and petty regulation rather than for free market liberalism. The EU is no longer the deregulatory single-market it once aspired to be. Instead, it has become a monolithic and increasingly interventionist bureaucratic super-state. After considerable thought – and with a heavy heart – I have reached the conclusion that Britain would be best advised to leave the EU and I will be voting accordingly on 23rd June.

This is not the view of the Institute of Economic Affairs. The IEA doesn’t take a corporate position on the question of Britain’s EU membership and indeed the staff are divided on the issue. We are allowing individual members of staff to put forward their own views in public, although always – of course – from a free market perspective. Some have strong views (earlier this week we held a public debate between two IEA staff members – Diego Zuluaga who is a passionate Remainer and Ryan Bourne, a devout Leaver). Others are generally undecided or only lean marginally to one side or other of the debate. The IEA’s overall position on Brexit is summarised here.

From my personal perspective, I no longer feel I can be silent on the issue. I believe that there is neither sufficient appetite nor adequate prospect for reform amongst other member states in Brussels, although this may have been compounded by the failure of successive British governments to build powerful and meaningful alliances.

I believe there are risks and uncertainties involved in going for Brexit, but these are – on balance -risks worth taking. There is no guarantee that Britain will become a more outward-looking, globally free trading, open and free society outside of the EU. But there is, in my view, a pretty good chance of it.

Furthermore, it is not a “no risk” option to stay in the European Union. I am sensitive to the argument that a European Union without the UK would potentially become more statist, but I think this is offset by the potential positive impacts on the EU in having to respond to Brexit and perhaps adopting or at least considering a rather more flexible, less centralised constitutional model.

The question of Britain’s continuing membership of the EU is an issue on which people of a free market persuasion can sincerely and honestly disagree. Whatever the outcome of the referendum, I look forward to continuing to work closely with classical liberals across the continent and the wider world in putting the case for freer markets and freer people.

Notes to editors:

For media enquiries, please contact Stephanie Lis, Director of Communications: 07766 221 268.

The IEA is an educational charity dedicated to improving the public understanding of free markets. It takes no corporate position on whether Britain should stay in the European Union and a wide range of views are held by the Institute’s staff, trustees and wider supporters. For more on the IEA’s position, click here.

The mission of the Institute of Economic Affairs is to improve understanding of the fundamental institutions of a free society by analysing and expounding the role of markets in solving economic and social problems.

The IEA is a registered educational charity and independent of all political parties.