Brexit: Isolation Moderation in Action?
Posted by Edward Hodsdon on
In June 2016, the United Kingdom voted to leave the European Union. The vote was closely contested, with 51.9% voting to leave and 48.1% voting to remain. After 47 years as part of the European Union, Britain signalled its intent to shape its own destiny.
In some ways, Brexit bears some of the hallmarks of the political philosophy of Isolation Moderation. This is particularly in regards to immigration and economic independence. Throughout this piece, we will take a look at Brexit through the lens of Isolation Moderation, to see if this political turning point really is an example of Isolation Moderation in action.
A Brief History Of Brexit
The United Kingdom had been a member of the European Union (in its various forms), since 1973. At that time, what we now know as the European Union was a purely economic alliance.
Britain has always had a complex relationship with Europe, being such a close neighbour yet also being an island cut off by sea. Euro-skepticism has been a theme in British politics and opinion since the UK first joined the EU. In 2016, these pressures came to a head, and a referendum was allowed.
With a slim majority winning the vote to leave, an arduous and divisive negotiation process began. For any post-Brexit deal to be put into place, politicians in both the UK and the EU had to come to an agreement. Multiple deals were rejected, a series of failures which ousted British Prime Minister Theresa May. Negotiations dragged on for four years.
With Boris Johnson's rise to become Prime Minister in 2019, there was renewed focus on getting Brexit done. Johnson had been a key figure in the initial ‘Leave’ campaign before the referendum, and was determined to reach an agreement. After much political haranguing at home and overseas, a trade agreement was agreed in December 2020.
Britain had formally left the EU in January 2020 after a divorce bill had been approved by Parliament and the EU, but a transition period was agreed for 11 months until December 2020. If an agreement could not be reached by that date, there was a chance that the UK could be left out in the cold in a so-called ‘No-Deal Brexit’. With the agreement at the end of last year, Brexit is now in effect. However, politicians continue to sort out the many issues of separation.
An Exercise In Isolation Moderation?
The spirit behind Brexit was to return more sovereignty to the United Kingdom and take more control of its borders and economic activity, all strong connotations of Isolation Moderation. How does this compare with the EU?
The European Union is an international organisation, with 27 member countries that form a political and economic alliance spanning much of Europe. A standardised currency, the Euro, has been adopted by 19 EU countries. The EU operates as a single market, which was designed to promote economic growth for all members by allowing freer movement of economic goods, without tariffs or border checks. The EU does also trade with some countries that are not part of the bloc, such as Norway and Switzerland.
The majority of laws followed by the member countries are also standardised. The Schengen Area allows citizens of the EU member states to travel freely around much of the bloc, without the need for passports or visas.
Throughout its history, the EU has taken great pains to dispel any notion of hegemony within its power structure. In Isolation Moderation, hegemony is defined as “having a single nation, group, or entity holding outside control over another”. While some EU members, such as France and Germany, are more powerful as individual countries than others, the bloc has tried to avoid accusations of hegemony.
However, by enforcing a standardised economy, legal system, and movement zone across the majority of member states, could this be considered hegemony? The EU can in this instance appear as an entity that exercises hegemony over its member states. In other words, the EU “ended up becoming too centralized, bureaucratic, and detrimental to the sovereignty of individual nations.” This kind of control is part of what Brexit is attempting to escape from.
Isolation Moderation advocates that “in today’s world, countries need to spend more of their efforts looking inward and working to improve their own situations first. It has often been said that one cannot help others unless they help themselves first.”
The book suggests that this core idea should be realised through several key areas; “closed borders, a strong national defense, free trade, and peaceful relations among nations.” In the following sections, each of these areas will be discussed as they relate to Brexit and the EU, to find out if Brexit is a movement that can be defined as an example of Isolation Moderation.
Brexit And Closed Borders
For many years, immigration has been a particular point of contention for the argument in favour of Brexit. In 2015, 284,000 people emigrated to the UK. Under agreements with the European Union, citizens of the bloc were automatically able to work in the UK. But it is not just the movement of EU citizens that caused concern for the United Kingdom.
The European migrant crisis, which began in 2014 due to political upheaval in the Middle East and Africa, saw over a million refugees enter Europe to escape issues in their home countries. This caused issues for many European countries, including France, where a large number of refugees gathered in order to seek passage to the United Kingdom.
Over 8400 people tried to cross the Channel in 2020 alone. Criminal groups exploited the desperation of these people, by encouraging them to bypass the lengthy legal application process. Unchecked migration can cause several issues for a country's economy and security. This is something that became one of the key rallying points of pro-Brexit supporters.
Isolation Moderation defines closed borders as “national boundaries that limit the movement of people and goods among different territories”. This approach asserts that “strongly defined and secured borders keep countries safe and preserve their national culture and values”. One of the main goals of Brexit is to give the UK more control over its borders and immigration matters.
At the end of the post-Brexit transition period in December 2020, previously agreed free movement to the UK for EU citizens ceased. The British Government introduced a points-based immigration system in order to try and prioritise highly skilled migrants who could bring more value to the economy and society.
This approach can be said to mirror the advice on immigration set out in Isolation Moderation, which suggests that national governments should prioritise “individuals that are needed to work in certain industries based on the demand for various goods and services. The nation will decide what types of skills are needed to help build the economy, and foreigners who meet this criteria can apply to relocate into the country.”
Having stronger borders also helps a nation preserve its sovereignty, which is a consistent issue in an overarching political organisation like the EU. Greater sovereignty allows a government to better respond to the needs of its own people at local levels, which is, after all, the main purpose of a government.
Isolation Moderation defines sovereignty as the idea that “each individual nation (or state) has the authority to manage its own affairs without the outside interference of another nation or international organization.”
In contrast to this idea, the European Union works on the principle of standardised policies and laws that supersede national interests. This makes it more difficult for it to effectively attend to the needs of specific groups of its members. And because EU nations are only semi-autonomous, national governments are not as effective at meeting their people's needs and concerns.
As stated in Isolation Moderation, “an outside authority simply is not in the ideal position to determine what is best for another group of people”. Now, without having to bow to European legislation, the UK is more free to enforce its own domestic laws and policies. This allows the UK government to focus on the needs of its citizens, in accordance with the philosophy of Isolation Moderation.
National Defense And Brexit
One of the most pressing concerns for any government is keeping its people safe. As Isolation Moderation reminds us, “a strong national defense is necessary to ensure that all citizens can live in peace.”
Despite its centralized nature, the EU does not have sovereign control over the armies of its member states. Instead, its nations often cooperate in matters of defence, and any military action requires unanimous support. The EU's Common Security and Defence Policy (CSDP) encourages member states to pool their military forces together if the need were to arise. This mutual policy of cooperation has tightened even further post-Brexit.
Isolation Moderation cautions against such pacts, asserting that full control over military capabilities should always remain with each individual nation. “All countries are sovereign and they are free to make their own decisions on military matters; no international organization has the authority to interfere with a nation’s sovereignty, particularly in regards to military action.”
While a member of the EU, Britain boasted having the most powerful defence capabilities, including nuclear weapons. The United Kingdom was one of the founding members of NATO, and also has a permanent seat on the UN Security Council. As such, Brexit will not specifically effect Britain's national defence.
Long-term military pacts are not advocated by Isolation Moderation, as these have arguably led to problems in the past. The First World War saw so many countries entangled by long-term defence agreements that a chain reaction caused almost all European powers to be dragged into the war. When one nation in a complex defence agreement is attacked, then all the other members must join in its defence.
Due to this potential problem, Isolation Moderation suggests that any military alliance between one or more countries should be temporary, and implemented only in response to specific threats or conflicts. Once such an issue has been resolved, the alliance should be disbanded. This allows nations to maintain their own control over their military forces, whilst also presenting the opportunity for cooperation when necessary.
This view does not seem to be shared by the EU. Some member states, particularly France and its President, Emmanuel Macron, have called for a joint European army. This would create a military force that answers to the collective EU first and foremost, rather than individual nations. While this has not yet been officially explored, Brexit will allow Britain to not get involved in the matter and retain sovereign control over its military.
So while Britain already has a military in place which fits Isolation Moderation's advice that “each nation must ensure that their own military forces are adequate enough to defend themselves”, British military policy differs from Isolation Moderation due to its continued involvement in permanent military alliances like NATO.
Free Trade And Brexit
One of the most prominent debates in economics is the contrast between a free trade economy versus a protectionist economy. Rapidly growing countries such as China and India appear to have fully embraced the direction of free trade, resulting in tangible economic growth.
Many countries appear to take a hybrid position between the two economic systems, with some elements of free trade as well as a handful of protectionist policies designed to help certain industries. Protectionist measures usually come in the form of tariffs and non-tariff barriers, or NTBs, which are essentially measures like regulations and standards agencies which can affect the types of goods allowed into an economy.
Isolation Moderation cautions against the use of such measures, which can cause problems for a nation's economy that negates any benefit from protecting industries. Protectionist tariffs “usually end up hindering economic growth, despite the perceived popularity of protectionism during times of economic downturn.”
Overall, the European Union is a relatively relaxed economy in terms of protectionism, although there are some detractors. In response to certain recent economic events, the EU has been given stronger powers to react to the tariffs of other nations.
One of the Brexit campaigns key rallying points was that leaving the EU would allow Britain more economic flexibility. The EU is Britain's largest trading partner, accounting for almost 50% of British trade. As such, it was important to agree a trade deal that was as mutually beneficial to both parties as possible. The agreed deal is much more of a free trade agreement, and came into force at the beginning of 2021.
Although the agreement between the UK and the EU is a free trade deal, there are a few new barriers for both economies. Previously, the UK followed the same trading and product standards as the European Union. But post-Brexit, the UK is no longer governed by these standards, and must implement its own. This may lead to a slight increase in NTBs, non-tariff barriers, during trade with the EU.
The United Kingdom also retains the vast majority of the trade deals it had while it was a member of the EU, but is now free to pursue other deals that are not shared by the EU member states. One such deal is an agreement signed with Japan in October 2020, and is also negotiating new deals with the United States and other countries. Deals like this should allow Britain to diversify its trading partners moving forward.
Given the nature of the UK's free trade deal with the EU, it's likely that any future deals will aim for a similar philosophy. This is perhaps the best way to structure an economy in an increasingly globalized world. Certainly, this approach is advocated by Isolation Moderation, which argues that “free trade policies generally allow nations to improve their economic situations, and the long-term benefits are more than enough to balance out any losses. In our current international and globalized world, this is the exact type of economic policy that should be pursued for the most long-term prosperity.”
Brexit And Peaceful Relations
Brexit is a manifestation of Britain's wish to take more control over their own destiny and place in the wider world. This aligns strongly with the idea of Isolation Moderation, which advocates that nations focus on themselves before encouraging positive relations with as many other countries as they can. If this can be achieved, “the result will be a world with much less turmoil and much more harmony.”
As mentioned earlier when discussing national defense, Isolation Moderation advocates that nations should avoid becoming entangled in long-term political alliances, which can end up dragging countries into the disputes of others.
So why do nations seek these alliances? Often, it is for some perceived gain. “The reason that most nations enter into political alliances is because they seek some sort of military protection or economic benefit.” Countries may also be enamoured with “the power and influence that can come from being apart of a large group of nations”.
But if a nation can focus on its own strong military defense and a free trade economy, the need to seek gain from such alliances is mitigated, which in turn reduces the amount of nations mired in complex international pacts.
With Brexit, the United Kingdom has freed itself in many ways from the entanglements of the European Union. Now, Britain can focus on its own defense and economy, allowing it to be of greater use to its neighbours. By breaking away from the centralized EU, Britain avoids “paying or doing more to support the collective group than they receive back in benefits.”
Never is this proven more apt than in the case of bailing out other countries. Due to the global financial crisis in 2008, many European countries suffered badly and could not afford to bail out their national banks or pay off their debts by themselves. They had to request aid from the International Monetary Fund (IMF) as well as the European Central Bank (ECB).
States such as Greece, Portugal, Italy, Spain, and Ireland had to essentially be bailed out by leading EU members like France and Germany. Although it was agreed that the UK would be immediately compensated should any of its funds be used in such a bailout, the risk of suffering immense negative economic impacts should another Eurozone financial crisis occur can be greatly reduced, thanks to Brexit. With more freedom to trade with other countries, a nation can protect itself better from future financial crises which may cripple a specific nation or group of nations.
It can be argued that more financially stable countries can unwittingly become indispensable to poorer nations, leading to over-dependence. As Isolation Moderation points out, “foreign aid can create an entitlement mentality, where these countries expect other nations to take care of their problems instead of them taking responsibility themselves”. By disentangling itself from the EU, Britain can avoid such potential pitfalls inherent in international alliances, which is a step towards the idea of Isolation Moderation.
As we have discovered, Isolation Moderation advocates that nations should look to their own needs and people in order to create the best society for themselves. Then, they may be of greater assistance to neighbouring nations. An IM nation will stand on its own for the most part, but enter into temporary alliances if necessary. However, long-term international alliances and organisations are not encouraged in this philosophy, due to the potential for unnecessarily dragging individual nations into the problems of others.
That is not to say that all international organisations or groups of countries are bad. There still can be some benefits. However, a centralized authority such as the EU often goes too far, interfering with the sovereignty of its individual member nations.
Therefore, Isolation Moderation offers the following advice. “A nation can join one of these international organizations if they choose, and they can remain an active participant. However, no nation should ever allow their sovereignty to be taken away by these institutions.” This is exactly what Brexit has allowed the United Kingdom to reclaim.
In terms of closed borders and economic policy, the UK has more freedom and more sovereignty than it did when it was a member of the EU. It already maintained a strong national defense, which is a key component of an IM outlook.
Although Britain is still entangled in international organisations such as NATO, for the most part it retains its sovereignty. While only time will tell whether Brexit is successful or not, that 2016 referendum has begun to set the United Kingdom down the path laid out in Isolation Moderation.
If you are interested in learning more about these ideas, please order your own copy of Isolation Moderation.