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Sunday 3 December 2023 Dublin: 0°C
Stefan Rousseau/PA Wire/Press Association Images Mayor of London Boris Johnson sits in a lorry during a Vote Leave campaign event in Kent.

The EU has long passed its original purpose. Time for Brexit to kill it

A British withdrawal from the EU is the death knell we need delivered to the failed union, writes Aaron McKenna.

WHEN IT WAS established first as the European Coal and Steel Community, the goal of the nascent European federalists was clear: Establish the type of close economic bonds that would make a war on the continent unlikely if not impossible in the future.

It was a highly practical response to the problem of European nationalism, implemented at a time when many major cities on the continent were still in ruin. The last refugee camps for displaced persons in Europe were only closed by 1960, three years after the Treaty of Rome that established the European Economic Area.

Trade, access to natural resources and antagonistic co-dependencies played major underlying roles in driving the two world wars. As we learned in Ireland once our revolutionaries became governors, fighting your near neighbours with tariffs is an excellent way to hobble an economy.

A key driver of German expansionism throughout the early 20th century was the desire to attain autarky, or total self sufficiency, for the resource-poor nation. The spectre of trade wars and the fears of economic starvation played a major role in driving the wars that flattened the continent in the 31 years between 1914 and 1945.


As a free trade area the EU and its predecessor organisations has been an unqualified success.

Half a billion people live within an economic zone where barriers to doing business have eroded. Economies and businesses are like racing boats; and trade restrictions, bureaucracy, tariffs and differing regulations are like barnacles on the underside slowing them down.

American taxpayers can claim a lot of the credit for European peace and security through their contributions to defence during the Cold War; but the EU has effectively silenced any talk of conflict among its member nations.

We take this for granted, forgetting that veterans of most major European conflicts were alive to witness the next one due to their frequency: Veterans of the Seven Years War were still knocking about in time to see the start of the Napoleonic Wars.

Participants in that lived to see the Franco-Prussian War, which led on to the First World War; many of whose veterans took up arms again for the Second.

There can be no doubting the role the EU has played in changing this narrative as many of the veterans of the Second World War die without having seen a major war between European powers in their further lifetimes.

But when we come to consider the topic of Brexit, the first time a nation proposes and seems close to departing the club, we are not here to contemplate the principle of European peace and prosperity.


Peace between major nations and free trade is no more in question between European countries than the notion of a trade war, let alone actual one, with the United States of America or anywhere else.

What the British are being asked to consider is if the European Union that exists today is one that they want to live as a part of. It is a question that all European citizens should be allowed to ask themselves, and one that most governments are afraid to give voice to.

The EU has metamorphosed into a massive, overbearing and overreaching bureaucracy. It talks about subsidiarity – the concept that decisions should be made at as local a level as is practicable – whilst centralising as many powers to its institutions as it can lay its hands on.

Europe Greece Bailout Associated Press European Commission head Jean-Claude Juncker with Enda Kenny at an EU summit in Brussels in June 2015. Associated Press

The several hundred members of the European Parliament, their staffs, committees, attendant civil servants and commission departments have yet to discover something they wouldn’t like to oversee and regulate.

We used to have 15 commissioners, who ran 15 departments of the EU government. We now have 28. Why? Because we went from having 15 member states to 28, and everyone has to get a job.

New departments with makey-uppey titles and remits find work for themselves, as do the parliamentary committees that come into their orbit. This couldn’t be further from the idea of a barnacle-free racing boat of a free trade zone.

Recognising that the bureaucracy has become too onerous, the president of the European Commission, Jean-Claude Juncker, appointed Frans Timmermans as a vice-president whom he mandated to cut down excessive complexity. Timmermans’ job title has 16 words in it.


Eurocrats tell us that if only the British vote to remain within the EU, things can get better.

The EU can become more democratically accountable and be more receptive to the needs of the citizenry, who have been moving away from the idea of ever closer union for many years now even before the economic crisis.

Eurocrats are incapable of real change. The exist in a bubble and their momentum will drag us in the direction that suits them forever more.

European citizens, beginning with the British, need to deliver a death knell to the European Union. Not, I must stress, to the idea of European free trade and economic integration.

We do not need 750 parliamentarians and 28 commissioners and armies upon armies of bureaucrats looking for things to regulate in order to have that. There is a simpler way, which committed Eurocrats can’t even bend their minds to contemplate.

To them, the British are mad to consider leaving. Simple as. They don’t stop to question why the British, or anyone else, might have a poor impression of the European project.

Reversing the integration that has happened will be painful. There will be economic losses in the short run.

Then again, countries like Ireland have already suffered ruinous losses for being inside the club; when we had inappropriate interest rates in the run up to 2008 and then were unable to devalue our currency afterwards.

We now have interest rates that are too low and will continue to have the same practical problems so long as we are too close to the fire, rather than sitting back at a comfortable distance.

European free trade has helped secure peace on the continent. The marginal additional benefit derived from the army of mandarins that has floated up in the wake of the EU is questionable. The erosion of democratic legitimacy across the EU is unquestionable.

We need to turn the clock back, just a bit. Not to a time of jingoistic self interest; but to a time of free trade ideals, when we were good neighbours rather than pretending to be close family members.

Aaron McKenna is a businessman and columnist for You can follow him on Twitter here.     

Read: Farmers and food producers could suffer the most if the UK ditches the EU

Read: Former British chancellor: Brexit could force return to Irish border controls

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