Tuesday, April 26, 2016

Who are the real voices of Leave?

It isn't impossible to find people making an intelligent, optimistic, free-market case for a Britain which would be open to trade with the whole world rather than a haven for Xenophobic little Englanders.

The trouble is that you do have to go out and look for them.

Writing as a professional economist - e.g. someone with two degrees in the discipline who has used the skills I acquired with those degrees for the majority of my professional life - I was not expecting the debate about the economic advantages of Leave versus Remain to be the walkover for the latter which it has been to date.

The economic case about the risks of Brexit put by George Osborne and the Treasury is not without substance or supporting arguments, and it is silly and childish to dismiss their case as pure scaremongering but that does NOT mean there are no counterarguments and personally I think they have overstated a legitimate case.

But it is most depressing that there has been almost no publicity given to the views of one of Britain's most distinguished living economists, Professor Patrick Minford, who I know does support "leave."

I'm not sure whether I am more disappointed with those pro-Brexit news outlets who have made no attempt to cover the fact that a very strong majority of serious economic commentators believe that Brexit would make Britain poorer, or with the BBC and pro-remain media who have suggested that there is unanimity among such commentators in support of that view.

Both are wrong - there is certainly a heavy majority among financial institutions and economists that leaving the EU would cause an economic shock, but that believe is not universal. If you look carefully you can find views such as those expressed here or here by Professor Minford taking a different view.

However, I have also read that Professor Minford is not at all happy about the way that the official "leave" campaigners have put the case and I do not blame him. As I understand his argument from the pitifully simplified versions which have come through the media, his point is that to get the benefits of leave Britain would need to use the freedom that this would bring to adopt free trade policies, drop tariff and similar barriers and let people buy things at the worlds cheapest market rates - even if that means some industries (e.g. steel) would find things difficult.

There is actually a strong argument for this but it is not the one being made. So we have to ask, what would happen if Britain votes to leave, does the country really support the policies which would be needed to make an exit strategy work?

In the past couple of days both Andrew Stuttaford at the National Review and Ben Kelly who runs a pro-Brexit blog called the Sceptic Isle have argued that Leave needs a plan and an exit Strategy, probably along the lines of the Leave Alliance's Flexcit proposal.

But meanwhile distinguished leave supporters like Charles Moore of the Spectator have been pushing the absurd idea that the Leave campaign would be wrong to lay out a plan for Britain's future.

So which is the real voice of Leave? I don't know, and if I did it would be much easier to decide how to vote. But unless those Leave supporters who do have a constructive plan manage to get it to the attention of the British voter before June 23rd, I doubt their side will carry the day - or deserve to.

No comments: