There’s serious uncertainty in the wake of yesterday’s 52-48 decision by the United Kingdom to leave the European Union. I won’t attempt to round up the dozens of reports I’ve read covering Brexit, but I will offer my own small thoughts.
First, my thinking on Brexit and the merits of Britain remaining or leaving the EU has been shaped in a significant way by Daniel Hannan’s optimistic and tireless campaigning for the “leave” cause. Hannan has been a Minister of the European Parliament from Britain since 1999; in effect, he’s been campaigning for his people to fire him as much as “take control” of their own country. This is the principle of subsidiarity in its purest form—that what can best be handled on the most local levels, should be. His “Why Vote Leave” is worthwhile if you’re trying to understand his experience or the perspective of the Leave constituency.
Second, from the little of the referendum campaign I’ve followed over the past 12 weeks, the degree of abusive and arrogant “Remain” campaigning I’ve encountered online has been surprising. I can only imagine what it has been like on the ground, but when a campaign shapes its posture through lecturing and fear mongering over the prospect of reasserting sovereignty, it is asking to lose. And in that respect, shorn of any serious consideration of the merits of either side, Remain deserved to lose. Politicians and politics exist to serve the people, and in the case of this referendum a majority of Britons felt ill-served by their servants.
Third, given the unprecedented nature of an EU member nation opting to leave the union, there will be uncertainty for weeks, months, and maybe longer. Immediate rumblings post-referendum suggest this decision could lead to the functional dissolution of the UK as Scots are calling for a new referendum and Northern Irish are suggesting unity with the Republic of Ireland. These are good things, to my way of thinking. I know my grandmother, who was a descendant of Robert the Bruce, was disappointed when the 2014 Scottish independence referendum failed. She wanted independence for her ancestral cousins.
Fourth, there’s lots of rhetorical acid being thrown at Britain by those suggesting its decision to leave the EU consigns it to irrelevance. This suggests that any EU member state that opts to leave will be abused and disrespected, a poor precedent. It ignores the fact that no EU member state’s voice was less meaningful prior to political and economic union. And it flies in the face of reality—if a country like Singapore can be so globally significant, so can Britain. (Especially if Britain stays together, it’s difficult to imagine that the fifth largest country in the world economically will be worse off now that it’s regained the ability to execute free trade agreements internationally.) Bitterness is an ugly look.
If Brexit results in a smaller Britain of England, Wales, and its smaller overseas territories, it seems like it will result in at least two things: A more just national outcome for the Scots and Irish—who will have their sovereignty, and can join the EU on their own terms if they wish—and a chance for Britain to reforge its ties with its Commonwealth nations.
A smaller Britain with the latitude to partner with its Commonwealth peers would be a bold step into the future.