British historian and author Niall Ferguson has said that he was wrong to campaign for Britain to remain in the EU, calling the decision “the great mistake of my career”.
Ferguson told the Milken Institute Global conference that the disastrous leadership of EU leaders over the last decade had justified Britain’s decision to leave.
What EU leaders got wrong
According to Ferguson, the vote to leave was a reaction to the following:
1) The disastrous consequences of monetary union
2) The failure of European Union security policy, especially with regard to North Africa and the Middle East
3) The EU’s mishandling of the migrant crisis
4) The EU’s failed approach to the problem of radical Islam
“The European elite’s performance over the last decade entirely justified the revolt” against the EU.
Ferguson also notes that arguments about whether Britain’s GDP would be “1%-5% lower in five or tens years time” – which he had advanced during the campaign – had missed the point. Brexiteers were far more concerned with protecting Britain from the consequences of EU leaders’ decisions.
The EU lost control of immigration
On immigration, Ferguson had the following to say:
Net immigration of 300,000 a year was not something that people signed up for at any point… you can’t say that it is a fantasy to be worried by immigration when more than one million people poured into Germany last year as a result of Angela Merkel’s reckless decision making on that issue.
The Killer Question
He then went on to share “the killer question” Brexiteer’s had asked him prior to the referendum, a question to which he could give no satisfactory answer:
“Hey, tell me about that one million people who have come from the mainly Muslim world into Germany. If they’re given German passports, can they come here?”
Why couldn’t he give a satisfactory answer? Because the answer was yes:
And the answer was yes! There’s no other answer you could credibly give! People in my experience were voting not so much about immigration to date; they were voting about what they anticipated in the future… that was a perfectly rational concern because the EU lost control of its external border.
And by the way, it’s far from clear that it has regained control. If Mr Erdogan decides to reopen the gates, we will be contending with exactly the same problem that we saw in 2015 in 2017. So I don’t think the European elites yet have a credible answer to the legitimate concerns of ordinary people about the globalisation that has frankly run out of control. People are not arguing for no globalisation, they’re not arguing for no immigration; but they’re saying that it had got out of control.
Don’t make Putin your scapegoat
Another member of the panel on which Ferguson was speaking, German MEP Marieluise Beck, rejected criticism of the EU, blaming popular dissatisfaction with it squarely on manipulation by Putin.
Ferguson counters that it is “fantastical” to blame Putin for inventing what are real problems with the EU:
The problems which got people to vote Brexit in the UK and the problems which get people to vote for populism on the continent are not imaginary; they are real, and you don’t need Vladimir Putin to make them up. People have a very good reason for saying that immigration ran completely out of control over recent years.
Europe’s integration problem has been aggravated
Ferguson also warned Beck on the great difficulty Europe faces in attempting to integrate new arrivals from the MENA:
You tell us that multiculturalism is all very well and we need to change our attitudes, but look at what the consequences already have been in your country [Germany]: throwing open the gates and embarking on a process of integration which seems to me to have almost no chance of success.
Look at how unsuccessful northern Europe was in admitting asylum seekers in the 1990s on a much smaller scale. The unemployment differential between the native-born and the foreign-born in northern Europe was enormous even before the latest wave of migration.
You’re in denial about Europe’s problems trying to blame it all on Putin, come on!
Belatedly on the ball
Ferguson’s Brexit analyse is convincing. And it is all the more so for coming from someone who had campaigned for Britain to remain.
The EU had created multiple crises for which its only answer has been “more Europe”, which is to say closer union. The British public did not think that “more Europe” was the solution to problems when it meant empowering the very people who had helped create those problems in the first place.
Cameron’s “thin gruel deal” was wholly inadequate. It did nothing to deal with the migrant crisis and the problem of Islamist terrorism which that crisis had helped exacerbate with the admission of some 5000 jihadists into Europe and a poor, uneducated and overwhelmingly unemployed immigrant population that could be susceptible to the allure of radical Islam.
In doing nothing, the deal proved beyond doubt that EU leaders were too stubborn and too complacent to do anything to solve the problems they had helped to create.
So Britain decided that it could no longer trust the EU with its governance. It decided it must take its destiny back into its own hands and attempt to insulate itself from EU misrule as best it could.