Huge kudos are in store today for our British friends. Britons directly defied the will of all their major political parties’ leaders not named Nigel Farage, directly rebuked the sitting U.S. president—who had infamously fear-mongered that a post-E.U. Britain would be relegated to the “back of the queue” in future U.S. trade negotiations—and surely sent Angela Merkel into the deepest bowels of her personal liquor cabinet by defying Britain’s four-plus decade experiment as part of the supranational European project and voting for the restoration of their national sovereignty.
UKIP’s Farage, without whom the E.U. referendum surely would never have occurred and who now stands as one of the unlikeliest transformative British party leaders in post-World War II history, took to calling June 23 Britain’s “Independence Day.” We in the U.S. can all appreciate that sentiment:
As so often happens, Brexit saw an unleashing of countless online hot takes by those who have no idea what they are talking about. A bunch of hipsters, self-hating Westerners, and beta-male limousine liberals who think the “Washington Redskins” moniker deserves worse shunning in polite society than does “Lord Voldemort” in the Harry Potter universe—which is to say, those enviro-Statists who think Bernie Sanders is more an economic sage than is Milton Friedman, who think free-market capitalism is the devil’s workshop, and who worship at the secular altar of the oppressive nanny state that is the Brussels-based E.U.—now seem really concerned about the health of the pound sterling and their personal 401(k)s. The dolts at Salon, who collectively have about as fine an appreciation for the moral imperative of representative self-governance as Nancy Pelosi has for the constitutional constraints of Article I § 8, decided to directly go for one of the Left’s favorite buzzwords: “xenophobia.”
That Britons’ freeing themselves from Brussels’ fetid teat would arouse such angst is hardly unexpected. But in the wake of this confusion, it would behoove us all to clarify what the Brexit decision is and is not actually about.
WHAT BREXIT IS ABOUT
- Sovereignty and Subsidiarity – Once upon a time, the notion that a free people must solemnly govern itself was not quaint, but was universally taken seriously. Certainly, it was taken seriously by myriad political philosophers in the Enlightenment and post-Enlightenment eras, including no less a Brit than John Locke himself. The E.U.—intrinsically, systemically, and unequivocally—fails even the most basic test of what constitutes a democratic form of self-governance. It is fundamentally anti-democratic, runs roughshod over domestic legislatures, oppressively regulates, does incredibly stupid things like pushing for robot personhood, and deprives member-states of their autonomy over entire spheres of quotidian life. In voting to reclaim their sovereignty from the unaccountable bureaucrats in Brussels, Britons were doing little more than channeling their inner James Madison, who wrote in The Federalist No. 45 of a federal government of “few and defined” powers, and state governments of “numerous and indefinite” powers. The American Left, indeed, would be well-served to take away an important lesson here: a free people value their sovereignty, their moral need for self-governance at the most local level possible, and their ability to hold accountable a political class that infringes on their natural liberty. There are already rumors that Scotland, which voted down independence in a 2014 referendum but largely voted “Remain” last night, may be seeking to hold another independence vote to break away from the U.K.; perhaps Parliament might appease the Scots by taking the subsidiarity principle to its next logical conclusion and devolving even more power to Edinburgh, Cardiff, and Belfast. From our American perspective, federalism works pretty well, guys—at least when we actually abide by it.
- Skepticism of Multilateral Governance and the European Project – In the aftermath of the two World Wars, a pan-European project surely appealed to many as a stabilizing force. Perhaps it served a noble purpose, in those earlier years. But today, the E.U., far from symbolizing free trade as so many mistakenly believe it does, is actually one of the world’s most notorious protectionist blocs. Real economic growth is utterly stagnant, and moral hazards abound in the periphery’s heavily indebted nations such as Greece. Pragmatically, Germany has such disproportionate control over the Continent—including the European Central Bank’s “single mandate” for managing inflation (in contrast to the Federal Reserve’s “dual mandate” for managing inflation and promoting full employment), which is largely in place as a downstream effect of old German fears about post-Treaty of Versailles hyperinflation—so as to make the E.U., in some ways, Angela Merkel’s personal fiefdom. The Eurozone’s monetary union, while aiding trade amongst member nations, represents such a blatantly obviously terrible idea in the absence of a concomitant fiscal union so as to raise the question of whether any economics Ph.D.s at any level ever had any input in the ultimate signing of the Maastricht Treaty. And then, of course, there is the E.U.’s de facto open-borders regime, especially with respect to the Islamic world…
- Borders and Immigration Matter – As hard as it may be for elites—across the political spectrum, that is—to swallow, large-scale immigration just isn’t that popular. It is no coincidence that Donald Trump and Ted Cruz, the top two finishers in the GOP’s presidential primary, spoke frequently not just about the perils of illegal immigration, but also of the need to streamline legal immigration and prevent its excesses from jihadi-overrun nations and fundamentally anathematic cultures. Hard to believe, I know, but British voters apparently just really weren’t that enthused at the prospect of welcoming in tens of thousands of Merkel’s barely vetted Syrian refugees. Paris and Brussels, as evidenced by the horrific terrorist attacks there in the past two years, have legitimate jihadi problems that threaten the safety of everyone on the Continent. Britain, only eleven years removed from the Underground bombings, has problems of its own. So bad has this open-borders calamity been for European Jewry—only 71 years since Hitler’s defeat, that is—that no less a Leftist journalist than Jeffrey Goldberg memorably wrote a lengthy feature piece in The Atlantic last year on whether it is “time for the Jews to leave Europe.” Aliyah immigration to Israel from countries such as France has dramatically spiked. Considering the E.U.’s toxic anti-Israelism that so often easily bleeds into anti-Semitism and the Muslim immigrants who align with neo-Nazis to chant “gas the Jews” in the streets of Berlin, that should be no surprise. Regaining control of Britain’s borders is hardly automatically triggered by Brexit, to be clear, but Brexit is assuredly a necessary condition to achieving that noble end. Thus, Brexit represents the British people sobering up to the jihadi threat—and how that threat is perniciously wreaking havoc on the Continent.
WHAT BREXIT IS NOT ABOUT
- Xenophobia – There is nothing “xenophobic” about a country seeking to retain its historical culture, conservatively minimizing the chances of implicitly abetting home-grown jihadi radicalism, and in soberly rejecting the Left’s ideals about cultural universalism in favor of the grounded reality that there are many cultures around the world that simply do not easily mesh with those of the West. Those who lambast the Leave camp’s purported xenophobia should put their money where their mouth is and go visit one of Europe’s many “no-go zones” outside of Paris or Brussels. They should try to hold an Israeli flag at a pro-Gaza (pro-Hamas/radical Islamic terrorism?) rally in London, just to see what might happen. The Left has a way of using scary-sounding words, oftentimes ending in “-phobia,” to denigrate real, human concerns: the damage that the E.U.’s de facto open-borders regime has wrought is one such example. There is nothing inherently wrong with Britons deciding that they have a problem with such high an influx as—per David Frum’s reporting—the 630,000 foreigners who settled in Britain in 2015, and an increase in population of eight million people from 1990 to 2015 despite a native birth rate that is below replacement level. Legal immigration levels are entirely fair game for legitimate public policy debates.
- Isolationism – It is quite the opposite, actually, as former London mayor and pro-Leave stalwart Boris Johnson argued last night. Just because a nation decides to take fuller control of its borders and its legislative prerogative does not amount to an abnegation of global responsibility. Britain’s role as a member of the G8, U.N. Security Council, and the like will not be jeopardized by its decision to leave behind the hapless bureaucrats in Brussels. The “Special Relationship” with the U.S. long predated the European project, and it will outlast Britain’s fleeting association with it. Britain’s foreign policy will now have much more flexibility—which, of course, includes the possibility of joining the U.S. for any necessary anti-jihadi combat missions in the Middle East that may occur in the future. With a less feckless moderate as David Cameron and a more right-wing Tory stalwart such as Michael Gove potentially coming in to inhabit 10 Downing Street, for instance, who knows whether an empowered Britain would join a future conservative U.S. president in taking a harsher line on the genocidal mullahs in Tehran?
- Complete Abandonment of Europe – This is patently silly. Britain is still part of Europe. National referenda do not change geography. Britain will negotiate a new trade deal with the E.U., in due time; both sides are better off with one in place. In the same way that a hypothetical wall along the U.S.-Mexico border would not be inconsistent with amicable relations and free trade, neither is a restored British sovereign control over its borders, legislative agenda, and national security inconsistent with European trade. Britain has never been just an ordinary European nation, anyway; it once had one of the greatest empires in human history, has a longstanding “Special Relationship” with the world’s sole modern superpower, and still maintains a cultural umbrella of influence throughout the Anglosphere. Since at least World War I, Britain has tried to thread a very fine needle between aligning itself too closely with Europe and aligning itself too closely with the U.S.; last night merely represented another fine swing of that pendulum.
Again, kudos are in store for our British friends. Ignore the short-term shocks to the global financial markets that did not properly price in either the firmness of your resolve or your yearning for autonomy; coming from the land of the free and the home of the brave, we can assure you that sovereignty and freedom are always worth it.