To be quite blunt about it, a great many people in Britain have just given a big middle finger to leaders who have ignored their concerns about national identity and autonomy, and their right to make decisions within their own country about the nature of that country. These principles used to be the bulwarks of a democracy such as Britain, with a long and proud tradition that has not yet died.
Although the EU plan was designed to weaken that tradition—and probably has to a certain extent—the tradition is still strong enough, and the provocation great enough, to cause a majority of British voters to give a big resounding “no” to an EU scheme they’ve found to be increasingly intolerable, with diminishing rewards and increasing drawbacks.
Anti-EU feeling among the people of member-states isn’t limited to Britain, although it may be strongest there because Britain was a relative latecomer to the EU and retains some of its non-continental island identity. But nationalist movements are afoot in France, and Donald Trump represents the American version (although of course we’re not in the EU and therefore have no need to vote to get out of it).
Movements often come in waves. For example, I remember the international nature of the 60s’ cultural changes wrought by my generation. Everyone thinks he or she is an individual, and that’s true. But we’re all subject to, and reacting to, universal forces that can at times sweep different countries and even different continents. The UK and the US have a closeness which means they are often in sync: for example with Roosevelt and Churchill, Reagan and Thatcher. Those are especially great examples, but being in sync doesn’t always involves greatness.
In recent years in both countries, it has been said that “elites” have ignored the voters, the common man, the working class, whatever term you prefer—ignored their protests, ignored their concerns, ignored their problems, ignored their opinions and needs about immigration and a host of other things. Perhaps it was assumed that enough people could be placated, cajoled, soothed by comforting words, and made to agree with what those leaders wanted them to think. The leaders thought they knew better, and perhaps they did; maybe leaving the EU will be a disaster for Britain as Cameron and many others have predicted, although I doubt it in the long run. At any rate, “the people” didn’t think so, and they voiced their disagreement through the ballot box.
Cameron had suggested the referendum on EU membership several years ago because he wanted to placate potential defectors within his own party who were anti-EU. He was fairly confident that eventually he would win the referendum vote and keep Britain in the EU’s grip. He thought he could persuade enough people that he was correct that remaining in the EU would be best for Britain, but he miscalculated and now he’s on his way out. Cameron had said the vote would be “a great festival of democracy,” and the people have celebrated that festival by telling him—and the EU—to get lost.
Over two million pro-EU voters are now desperate to turn back the clock and have petitioned for a do-over, suggesting that unless 60% of voters had agreed on Remain or Leave, with a turnout of 75% or more, another referendum should be held. But that’s not the way the referendum process ordinarily works. “You can’t simply invent new hurdles if you are on the losing side”—although apparently you can try.
[Neo-neocon is a writer with degrees in law and family therapy, who blogs at neo-neocon.]DONATE
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