For many people outside of Britain, the Brexit vote came in like a typical news item. One minute, you knew nothing about it (or almost nothing), then it was all over the news. And now you see people reacting with great passion over the result.
For me, it wasn’t a surprise. Regular readers may recall that I endorsed a pro-Brexit vote two weeks ago, calling on my British friends to get control of their own government with laws from their own Parliament, not from bureaucrats in Brussels.
In fact, this whole decision has been a long time coming. This was no impetuous decision. The push-pull debate over Britain’s membership in the European Union has been going on since Margaret Thatcher was prime minister 30 years ago. In her magisterial book “Statecraft,” she called for a trade alliance among the nations with the freest economies in the world, as an alternative to Britain’s continued reliance on the supranational European government in Brussels.
British voters obviously felt strongly — turnout topped 72 percent. In the United States, we typically see less than half of the eligible voters turn out, even in a presidential election year. And who turned out? As Ted Bromund, an expert in Anglo-American relations who was in Britain for the vote, noted, it was working-class voters in northern England.
“This wasn’t simply a victory for the majority of the Conservative Party who wanted to leave,” he wrote. “On their own, they would have lost. They won because the workers agreed with them.”
This boiled down a question of sovereignty for many voters. Britain has been in the EU for more than 40 years — it joined when the EU, then known as the “European Economic Community,” had fewer members — so it’s not as if British voters were unfamiliar with what EU membership entailed.
And yet British politicians in all parties kept saying they’d do something about it, and then failed to do so. In short, voters were fed up.
Mind you, Brexit is not a magic fix. It’s simply a necessary first step, like an alcoholic admitting he has a problem and then resolving to do something about it. Britain still has problems, and they won’t go away overnight. What voters did, essentially, was reclaim the right to do something about it themselves. The alternatives are available, and it will be up to Britain’s and America’s new political leaders to explore the options and build the public support for a new way forward together.
Since the Brexit decision, numerous American politicians are speaking of “the special relationship” between Britain and the United States. Maybe it’s time to not just talk about it, but to say concretely that we will be working together, as we have so many times in the past, to reinforce each other’s best practices — practices for open and expanded opportunities within the rule of law that our two nations share.
This may shock the elites, but people really don’t like being told what to do, especially by people in another country who are not answerable to them. And who can blame them for that?
What concerns the EU is that the Brexit victory will inspire others to leave. But if dissatisfaction is so widespread, rather than excoriate frustrated members for wanting to break away, why aren’t EU officials looking for ways to fix the problem?
The Lion is back. Free of the shackles of the unelected bureaucrats in Brussels, they can pursue bilateral trade deals and make dozens of other decisions free from interference by the unnamed and unaccountable in Brussels. They have a lot of work to do, but for now, they also have much to celebrate. We should be celebrating with them.
Originally published in The Washington Times