COMMENT

On this, Teresa May should take a leaf from Donald Trump's book

John Kane-Berman says the Brexist "deal" on offer from Europe will give the UK the worst of both worlds

This coming Friday, 15th March, is the 80th anniversary of the entry of German troops into Prague, in violation of the commitments Adolf Hitler had made to the British prime minister, Neville Chamberlain, at Munich in September 1938. Angry at having been betrayed by Hitler over Czechoslovakia, Chamberlain swiftly promised to come to the aid of Poland if the Nazis threatened its independence. And on 3rd September 1939, when Poland was invaded, Britain declared war.

Having met Hitler several times over the fortnight leading up to Munich, Chamberlain declared that the Führer was "a man who could be relied upon when he had given his word". Last month, on the eve of his departure for Vietnam for his meeting with Kim Jung Un of North Korea, Donald Trump almost echoed these words. He thought he saw eye-to-eye with Mr Kim, and that they had developed "a very, very good relationship".

A few days later, however, rejecting the North Korean leader's demands for the lifting of all economic sanctions, President Trump said "sometimes you have to walk, and this was just one of those times".

Perhaps it is now time for the British prime minister, Teresa May, to walk away from the politicians and apparatchiks of the European Union (EU), determined as they are to make it as difficult as possible for her to carry out the June 2016 referendum decision that the United Kingdom (UK) should get out. The British have never been more than half-hearted members of the EU, "euro scepticism" having run as a powerful current within both major parties ever since the UK joined the European club in 1973.

The "deal" on offer from Europe will give the UK the worst of both worlds. As a former governor of the Bank of England, Mervyn King, wrote a few months ago: "There are arguments for remaining in the EU and arguments for leaving. But there is no case whatever for giving up the benefits of remaining without obtaining the benefits of leaving. Yet that is exactly what the government is now proposing."

The great attraction for the UK of joining up with Europe was the common market (although of course this means free trade within Europe but tariffs against other countries). Since then Europe has evolved steadily, and sometimes stealthily, into something much more ambitious, confirmed yet again only last week by the French president, Emmanuel Macron, in calls for a "European Renaissance". Essentially this means continuation of the process of transferring powers from elected national parliaments to European institutions, including the bureaucracy in Brussels.

Although most of the European ruling class endorses this process, European electorates are generally less enthusiastic. From time to time the ruling class admits to Europe's "demographic deficit", but the overriding project of "More Europe" remains intact – just as bringing about a national democratic revolution in South Africa remains the overriding ambition of the ruling African National Congress (ANC).

The best option for the UK is a clear Brexit, one that that will return powers from European institutions to the British parliament, and leave the UK free to conclude whatever trade or other deals she likes with whomever she likes. Even in today's globalised world, which includes multilateral institutions such as the World Trade Organisation, such freedom is an essential attribute of national sovereignty. And that, essentially, is what this is all about.

For the UK to leave the EU on its own terms rather than on terms dictated by Brussels will be disruptive. No doubt there are those in Brussels and other European capitals who wish to ensure that there is as much disruption as possible, although it is unlikely that European business and ordinary European citizens share their attitude.

Despite disruption, there is a pragmatic argument for a clear Brexit. It is the only way of finally putting the issue to rest. Once the UK is completely out, it will never be allowed back in. Having triumphed, euro scepticism will be at an end. The alternative is a never-ending rearguard action against the EU's insatiable appetite for centralised power.

Getting out obviously requires the management of risks. But it also entails exploiting opportunities. These include cutting corporate and personal taxes, rolling back the state, and unilaterally lowering the UK's own tariffs. Getting out from under EU rules will also need to be accompanied by reducing British red tape. Overall, the UK will also need to pursue policies of economic liberalisation, among them policies explicitly designed to make the UK more and more attractive than Europe for skills and investment, including European skills and investment. As the EU becomes more interventionist, so the UK should revert to doing the opposite.

* John Kane-Berman is a policy fellow at the IRR, a think-tank that promotes political and economic freedom. Readers are invited to take a stand with the IRR by clicking here or sending an SMS with your name to 32823. Each SMS costs R1. Ts and Cs apply.