Imagine going to the polls and voting on this proposition:
Vote only once by putting a cross [X] in the box next to your choice.
Should Missouri Remain part of the United States of America [ ]
Leave the United States [ ]
On June 23, voters in the United Kingdom will answer a similar question — in choosing whether they want to remain part of the 26-member European Union. If more than 50 percent of British voters place an X on Leave, Britain will exit the EU.
Inside the UK, the question has stirred furious debate. But is there any reason for Missourians to think the “Brexit” debate is more than a tempest in a distant teapot?
There is if you talk to Blake Hurst, president of the Missouri Farm Bureau.
The average tariff on agricultural products in the EU is a whopping 20 percent. Leading Brexit supporters want to eliminate those tariffs altogether — which would result in substantially lower food prices for British consumers… and open a big door for U.S. farm exports.
“This could be a huge boost for our farmers,” Hurst says. “This [the U.K] is a big, rich market. They don’t produce soybeans but they have a large livestock industry that feeds on soybean meal, alfalfa, legumes, oil seeds, and other sources of protein. Without the high EU tariffs, our soybeans would be a whole lot more competitive in serving the British market.”
The big potential impact on soybean farmers in (to Britons) faraway Missouri hints at what makes the Brexit referendum a defining moment for both Britain and the EU. It suggests that the UK (and other European nations) might be better off outside the EU.
Ever since the end of the Margaret Thatcher era, there has been broad agreement among Conservative and Labour leaders in favoring the idea of “an ever closer union” among EU countries, including Britain. But that consensus has come unglued recently due to growing public dissatisfaction with the EU super-state model (a) in dealing with recurring eurozone financial crises (forcing the richer nations in the north to bail out their poorer neighbors to the south), and (b) in failing to stem the desperate tide of immigrants and refugees flooding into Europe from African and Middle Eastern countries.
Prime Minister David Cameron cites a UK Treasury study saying that Brexit would lead to a 6 percent decline in UK GDP over 15 years — with a loss of income of more than $6,000 for the average British household.
Prof. Patrick Minford, one of the eight members of “Economists for Brexit” and formerly one of Thatcher’s closest advisors, dismisses the Treasury report as “misleading propaganda.” Far from throwing the UK economy into tailspin, he contends that economic consequences of leaving the EU would be entirely positive — leading to faster growth, reduced unemployment, and higher incomes. It would be, he told me in a telephone interview, “Thatcherism cubed,” as Britain would no longer have to put up with millions of costly and often idiotic regulations. Among other things, the EU tells member states how much fat can be put in a sausage and it requires that tins of smoked salmon tell customers they contain fish.
The latest issue of the Economist says that recent polling has the Leave side in front in the upcoming referendum. If Britain does vote to leave, it will raise the further question of whether the EU as a whole can survive. Michael Gove — a member of Cameron’s cabinet who supports Leave — says that he believes that Brexit would lead to the “liberation” of Europe from the EU.
Andrew B. Wilson, senior writer at the Show-Me Institute, a St. Louis-based free market think tank, was BusinessWeek bureau chief in London during Margaret Thatcher’s first two terms as prime minister.