By Brett Hogan, Senior Fellow, and John Roskam, Executive Director, Institute of Public Affairs.
This week's referendum on whether the UK remains with, or leaves, the EU is primarily about democracy and the right of a sovereign people to live under their own laws.
A vote to leave would be a positive outcome for the UK, but would also send an important message to the EU that it is headed in the wrong direction, its people are unhappy, and urgent institutional reform is required.
Democracy is, at its heart, the process by which personal freedom of expression finds its voice. A nation's executive and legislative system, its courts, its police and armed services, and the laws they pass, interpret and enforce, form a framework that governs how its citizens live and interact with each other. A properly functioning nation-state and democracy must have the ability to perform these functions. Unfortunately it is clear that the citizens of the UK no longer enjoy these privileges.
Over the last 25 years in particular, the EU has extended its grip over not just trade and competition policy but social policy, energy, public health, transport and even to culture, tourism, education and youth. The sovereignty of the UK's parliament and courts is increasingly subject to the European Commission and its Convention on Human Rights, Court of Human Rights, Charter of Fundamental Rights and Court of Justice. In areas where EU and British laws are inconsistent, EU law prevails.
The real reason why EU regulations, such as banning curved cucumbers and bananas or requiring restaurant olive oil to be served in separate containers, are so absurd is that the EU is barely decades old yet already sees its role as micro-managing behaviour, literally down to the dining-table level.
Yet the UK has never voted for Europe as it is. The UK's often cited 1975 referendum was about staying with the then Common Market, rather than signing up to a federalist super-state.
The arrogance of the European project, with its un-elected Commission, opaque decision-making and onward march of centralism, is also likely responsible for some of the peculiar arguments that have been deployed against independence. Apparently, if the British leave they will be unable to secure their own trade deals, prevent the mass migration of large businesses to the continent, protect their own borders and will even be responsible for the end of Western civilization. But if the fifth-largest economy in the world, and successful NATO and UN Security Council member, which has successfully exported its language, parliamentary democracy, legal system, literature, and even civil society all over the world over many hundreds of years can't make it on its own, then who can?
Even when UK Prime Minister David Cameron tried to get a commitment from European leaders in early 2016 to some governance, competitiveness and freedom of movement reforms in advance of the referendum, they considered their position so comfortable that he was arrogantly rebuffed.
Of course, democratic traditions in the EU have never been strong, given that French and Dutch rejection of a European Constitution in 2005 led to the back-door Treaty of Lisbon in 2009 and the Irish and Danes were required to vote again after initially rejecting the Treaties of Lisbon, Nice and Maastricht.
The EU's argument that its ongoing existence and even greater integration is necessary to maintain the peace in Europe is seriously dated, and highlights how its 20th century thinking is hurting its prospects in the rapidly changing 21st century. The EU's inability to manage its own financial system or its own borders, deal with its intractable competitiveness problems, or satisfactory deal with overseas crises such as the Ukraine are topical cases in point.
That Austria's disputed presidential election run-off last month was between the Freedom Party and the Greens, or that National Front leader Marine Le Pen tops most polls for next year's French presidential election, demonstrates that the British are not alone in their distrust of Europe's institutions. The EU is in desperate need of competition, and for the development of an alternative agenda to ever-closer integration and centralisation. Brexit is the way for Europe to be saved from itself. An independent Britain that chose tax and spending reform, workplace deregulation, free trade and cheap energy, and was better off than those countries remaining in the EU, would be an important symbol of the potential of alternative policies.
Of course if the newly independent UK's parliament wished to mirror the EU's existing economic and social policy, it would be free to do so. In fact Australia's thirty-year-old trade agreement with New Zealand proves that countries can have a close economic relationship without political or currency union.
On 16 August 1950 at the Council of Europe, then Opposition MP Harold Macmillan said on the prospect of joining the European Coal and Steel Community: '(f)earing the weakness of democracy, men have often sought safety in technocrats. There is nothing new in this...But we have not overthrown the Divine Right of Kings to fall down before the Divine Right of Experts.'
That argument is as strong today as it was 66 years ago.
Photo by Flickr user m.hawkesy.