In the past week since Britain voted to ask the government to negotiate leaving the EU, I’ve been distressed by the number of classical liberals who are treating Brexit in and of itself as a triumph of smaller government. One of the more oft repeated lines I hear is “They’ve shed EU bureaucracy. Of course it’s a smaller government!”
The problem with that line of thinking is it deals only in absolute layers of government, not in government power itself. Yes, they shed one level (Brussels), but if the remaining sector (London) becomes even larger, then what good has it done? The Brussels layer may have been the one thing holding back a more intrusive British government. With that layer gone, the British government could become increasingly illiberal.
As a way of Americanizing this, let’s say Texas leaves the United States and becomes its own sovereign country. Texas, now free of rulings from the US Supreme Court and the Constitution passes legislation that results in massive tariffs on anything made in the United States and halts any and all migration into and from the state. These things would make Texas inherently less liberal than where they were before leaving the Union and would result in larger, not smaller, government. This expansion of government in Texas was prevented by the extra layer in the Federal Government of the United States. Using this simple example of “Texit,” we can see that the breakaway in and of itself didn’t necessarily mean smaller government.
I support Brexit because it gives Britain a chance to become more liberalized. But there is the possibility that such an outcome doesn’t happen. Should that come to fruition, then Brexit will be a failure in my eyes.