Will there always be an England?
Sitting here in a London Starbucks on the day of the most fateful vote in recent British history, I wonder what Ross Parker and Hughie Charles would make of the controversy over "Brexit." I suspect that the authors of the famous 1939 song "There'll Always Be An England" would be puzzled, not to say alarmed, over the wave of establishment sentiment advocating that Britain remain in the European Union.
"There'll always be an England," these songsters wrote,
and England shall be free
if England means as much to you
as England means to me.
But the question is: Does it? Does England mean as much to the Remainders (as I like to denominate those advocating continued subjugation to Brussels) as to those keen on reasserting British sovereignty? The words "free" and "freedom" are repeated several times in "There'll Always Be An England." That's the theme, the hope, the conviction: that Britain — even in the dark days when subservience to that earlier form of European Union in the 1930s and 1940s seemed likely — would triumph because of its native love of freedom.
How do things look now? I don't think I have ever seen Britain more divided. Most of the toffs are firmly among the Remainders.
I was in a posh bookshop yesterday and listened in as the proprietor and a customer assured each other of their fine feelings on the question of Brexit. Those advocating it were angry. They were selfish, too, since the real issue for those advocating Brexit (the averred) was immigration, and of course only jingoistic throwbacks could dispute the fact that mass immigration was simply a fact of modern life. The customer said that perhaps he should make a large purchase now, since if Brexit happened, the pound would collapse. Yes, agreed the proprietor, it would be an economic catastrophe. Fortunately, they agreed, the winds were blowing in the direction of the Remainders.
Are they? The murder of Jo Cox, a Labor MP, by a deranged 52-year-old psychiatric patient last week sent the polls spinning in the direction of the Remainders. Why? Because the press spun the tragedy as the action of a nativist Brexiteer. The truth is that Thomas Mair, Cox's assailant, had absolutely nothing to do with the campaign for Brexit. It was a cynical exploitation by the establishment to capitalize on a tragedy for their own political benefit.
You saw something similar when the registered Democrat and Islamic extremist Omar Mateen went on a shooting rampage in an Orlando nightclub a few weeks back, and was instantly seized upon as an advertisement for "gun control.” (Andrew McCarthy has an excellent recap of the Dem strategy in action over at National Review.)
Still, I wouldn't be too sure that the Remainders are going to triumph in this referendum. Over the last 48 hours, sentiment seems to be shifting back toward Brexit.
The class division in the debate is fascinating. The establishment, beginning with Prime Minister David Cameron, is firmly, not to say irrationally, in the Remain camp. As the columnist (and biographer of Margaret Thatcher) Charles Moore observed, there was something comical, as well as contemptible, about Tory Remainders — he mentioned David Cameron and Home Secretary Theresa May — who had had “spent so many years moaning about the EU that they could scarcely find the right words to explain why it was suddenly essential to our national survival.”
On the side of the Tory establishment are the huge corporations, the big banks, and all the multinational entities whose lives are barely affected by the morass of intrusive regulation imposed on British business by Brussels. They are large enough to outsource all the compliance requirements, while small or new enterprises stagger under the burden. From the point of view of the establishment, membership in the EU is a good thing if only because it keeps the field clear of rivals.
The Brexiteers are a mixed lot. Their ranks include readers of tabloids like The Daily Mail and The Sun, but also articulate spokesmen for British sovereignty like Boris Johnson, the former mayor of London; Daniel Hannan, a conservative member of the European Parliament; and Michael Gove, the Lord Chancellor and (to give him his new title) Secretary of State for Justice.
In an interview in The Telegraph the morning of the vote, Boris Johnson said that the vote was more important than his political career because at stake was the future of Britain as a free and democratic polity:
This is an absolute turning point in the story of our country, because ... if we go on with being enmeshed in the EU it will continue to erode our democracy.
What Is the EU?
For most of us cis-Atlantic commentators, the whole “European Project” is a murky enterprise. What is it really about? Tearing down artificial trade barriers? Wasn’t that the public rationale for the creation of the euro? Why have the inconvenience of francs and deutschmarks when a single currency would make business much more “rational”? (But what happens, you ask, when you add the lira and drachma into the mix? Was that rational?) Is economic “unity” what the European Union is fundamentally about?
Not really. Everyone knows this, but somehow the other answers seldom surface. Why?
Remember Edgar Allan Poe’s story The Purloined Letter? The operative conceit of that classic in the literature of detection is that if you wish to hide something, your best bet may be the brazen option: leave it lying about for all to see. The Prefect of the Paris Police couldn’t see what the mastermind Dupin instantly grasped: many things “escape observation by dint of being excessively obvious.” Thus it was with the letter purloined from the royal apartments. It was hidden in plain sight, in a card rack by a writing desk in the perpetrator’s apartment, but the Prefect and his minions couldn’t see what was right beneath their noses.
So where is C. Auguste Dupin when you need him? Consider Europe: not the geographical mass, but the idea — the “European Project” that was the brain child of Jean Monnet and other socialistically inclined politicians in the 1950s. What’s the most obvious thing about Europe today — apart, that is, from its staggering debt, endemic corruption, and moribund economy? What would M. Dupin say?
Before we speculate about that, let’s minute a few historical markers.
The idea behind the European Union was to create a “United States of Europe” that would consign intra-European military conflict to the dustbin of history. (Really, of course, what has preserved the peace in Europe these past 60 years is NATO, i.e., the U.S. military, under whose defense umbrella Europe has sheltered, but we may leave that to one side.) Preventing intra-European wars was one goal of the European Project.
Another, which was not so frequently acknowledged, was to forge an economic and political entity that could challenge the hegemony of the other United States, the United States of America. It took a while to get going. Impediments like patriotism and allegiance to national (versus supranational) interests kept breaking in.
Things didn’t really pick up steam until the Maastricht Treaty came on line at the end of 1993. Then there was the introduction of the single European currency, the euro, in 2002. That was a prelude to a continent-wide Constitution. Unfortunately, those old selfish nationalist interests reared their parochial heads again in the mid-2000s, when a European Constitution was offered to the voters of Europe to approve. Mirabile dictu: voters both in France and the Netherlands declined their ticket to EUtopia. This temporary setback was addressed by the Treaty of Lisbon in 2008. This was essentially the same document as the European Constitution, but rewritten to be impenetrable to ordinary readers.
And what does the Lisbon Treaty provide for? Leaders who are appointed, not elected; leaders who are accountable to each other, not the people. Rule, that is to say, by self-perpetuating elites who can mostly dispense with the inconvenience of the consent of the governed. The consent of those who govern is so much easier to negotiate.
What does this mean in practice? Here’s a taste. Back in 2012, José Manuel González-Páramo, a director of the European Central Bank, declared:
We cannot completely delegate governance to financial markets ... [The euro] cannot depend solely on the opinions of ratings agencies and markets. ... This underscores my central point that a much more comprehensive approach to economic governance is now the priority for the euro area. And this means more economic and financial integration for the euro area, with a significant transfer of sovereignty to the EMU [Economic Monetary Union] level over fiscal, structural, and financial policies [my emphasis].
“A significant transfer of sovereignty.”
Mr. González-Páramo was frank about taking sovereignty away from individual nation states. But what does that mean? What is sovereignty?
It is the political power to determine how one wishes to live.
At bottom, the European Project is an effort to seize power (“transfer” sounds much nicer though, doesn’t it?) from local and national entities and invest it in a central authority. An early step on this road is what Mr. González-Páramo calls “integration,” i.e., what the Germans in the late 1930s called “Gleichschaltung,” bringing all aspects of life into harmony with certain central dictates.
“Gleichschaltung” is not the only ominous German word one hears about Europe these days. Another is “Anschluss.” Back in 1938, that’s what happened when Germany suddenly absorbed Austria.
A couple of years ago when an earlier chapter in this saga was unfolding, I was chatting with an Italian friend, a former Italian senator, who employed the word to describe the ascension of Mario Monti to the Italian premiership in 2012. “Super Mario” was technically appointed by the Italian president; in reality, he was foisted upon Italy by the European Union. As it happens, that same day Lucas Papademos was sworn in as Greece’s prime minister.
How did that happen? Well might you ask. That day, we received a plaintive email from a journalist friend in London:
Today, two modern European democracies installed prime ministers who had been elected by nobody. This is what we have come to. It is roughly the equivalent of the federal government stepping in to appoint an unelected governor of California when the state went broke — which is beyond inconceivable. Pray for us.
So long as Britain remains tethered to the European Union, Brussels will be able to impose all the regulations it wants via other treaties. Ultimately the debate over Brexit is a debate over sovereignty, which is a fancy word for freedom. Today's vote is historic because on it rests the future freedom of Great Britain.
Will it be absorbed still further into the (more or less) soft bureaucratic totalitarianism of the European Union, gradually extinguishing its common law traditions, or will it reassert its prerogatives of self-rule?
My record as a political prognosticator has been ostentatiously poor, yet I venture, with some trepidation, to say that my reading of the tea leaves suggests that the spirit of independence has not been entirely bred out of the British electorate.
There are apparently no exit polls for the referendum, so we won't know until ealry tomorrow whether (to end with another song) Britain will still be able to sing "Rule, Britannia" and its famous refrain "Britons never, never, never will be slaves." That's not the fate that David Cameron, to say nothing of his Continental masters, have in mind, but today, perhaps for the last time in a generation, the British voters have a choice.
A Mandate for Liberty, a Rejection of Subservience:
What Brexit Means
Yesterday, Britain was offered a choice between fear and freedom. It chose freedom. Decisively.
As I write, shortly after 6:00 a.m. London time, the tally is not quite complete, but it is already clear that Brexit won by more than one million votes. The projected margin, with only a handful of localities yet to count, is 52% to 48%. Not an absolute blowout for those who believe Britons ought to be allowed to rule themselves rather than submit, Vichy-like, to unelected commissars in Brussels, but still no squeakeroo, either.
This vote was a mandate for liberty, a rejection of subservience, and above all a rejection of the disgusting moral blackmail of "Project Fear" disseminated by the vested interests of the world establishment.
Britain presides over the world's fifth-largest economy (edging out France for the spot last year), the fourth- or fifth-largest military, and — it cannot be measured precisely but is nonetheless palpable — a common law tradition that has underwritten democratic institutions, self-rule, and individual liberty.
President Obama, jetting over to lecture the Brits about how they should run their lives, warned that they would go to "the back the queue" in the world's and in the United States's favor should they opt to leave the European Union. In fact, Britain has a lot to say about the organization of the queue that is its destiny, and it just demonstrated that it doesn't need the officious intervention of the worst president in the history of its former colony.
What does Brexit mean? The headline at the Drudge Report crowed "Global Order Jolted." But it would be more accurate to say that — in the Anglosphere, at least — global order has been restored.
Had Britain voted to remain in the EU, the Anglosphere would have continued, but Britain would have lost its prominent role in it as it slipped more and more into the adipose embrace of the central planners in Brussels.
Doubtless, there will be short-term turmoil. As I write, the pound is off about 10% and nearly everyone expects turbulence in the markets. Long-term, however — and it will not be that long in coming — Britain's assertion of its right to govern itself will redound to its own and the world's economic vitality.
The pound will recover — if I were in the currency trading biz, I'd buy Sterling now and for the next couple of weeks — and Britain's economy, free, free at last from the regulatory nightmare that is a signature of the EU's despotic regime, will go from strength to strength.
The banks are not going to leave London, England will continue to trade with Europe. It will now also be free to trade as it sees fit with the rest of the world, unencumbered by the myriad protectionist rules stipulated by Brussels.
Winners and losers
The winners in last night's vote are the British people, the British economy, and the tradition of democratic capitalism underwritten by individual liberty and the rule of law.
Who are the losers?
Well, David Cameron is high up on the list. Early this morning he held a press conference in which he announced that he would shortly be stepping down as Prime Minsiter. But the biggest loser is the sclerotic, self-dealing political establishment that transformed the EU from a plan to open markets into a scheme to co-opt freedom and create a self-perpetuating cadre of untouchable elites.
Jean-Claude Juncker has been the president of the European Commission for the last couple of years. He presides over a population of nearly 500 million — well, 500 million minus 64 million as of today.
Do you know how he was elected? He wasn't.
His fellow commissioners, all baker's dozen of them, went into a room, closed the door, and appointed him. As with all European commissioners, the people didn't hire him, nor can the people fire him.
Like all commissioners, he lives tax-free at public expense and enjoys an essentially unlimited expense account.
The EU has never presented the world with an audit of its accounts, because it is so rife with corruption that the accountants cannot get (or are told not to get) to the bottom of it.
Britain's vote to leave the EU is a historic act. It is a welcome reassertion of freedom and democracy in a world that has been drifting, and sometimes paddling vigorously, in the opposite direction.
That said, it is not a final, definitive act. There will be at least two years of negotiations as Britain begins to uncouple itself from the Leviathan of Brussels. Doubtless to pressure to backslide will be enormous. There will be much "fletus et stridor dentium" as the Establishment bemoans this blow to its prerogatives. But this assertion of freedom will also have plenty of salubrious emanations and penumbras.
I predict that other countries will eye Britain's newfound courage enviously, and begin taking back some of their own freedoms.
Brexit might also have the salutary effect of inspiring a little self-reflection on the part of the EU bureaucrats who have grown complacent exercising power without responsibility. With Britain's example before them, perhaps they will think twice about telling people what sort of bananas they may eat, how to manage their national borders, or whom they may deport.
As Brexiteer Boris Johnson, the former mayor of London (who seemed likely to be the next Tory leader until he was sabotaged: see below), repeatedly said, the vote to leave the EU was a positive and optimistic act. It was a forward-looking vote of confidence in Britain's bright future and a proud assertion of its glorious traditions of liberty and economic strength.
June 24, 2016: This is a great day for Britain and and great day for freedom.
After the Earthquake
A cartoon on the front page of The Telegraph this morning sums up the stunned mood in London. “Good evening,” a newsreader says. “Aliens didn’t land on earth and Elvis wasn't found alive, but everything else happened.”
The triumph of Brexit sent shock waves through the edifice of polite opinion. As several commentators noted, it was a Pauline Kael moment: no one who was anyone knew anyone who had voted for Brexit and yet, just as Pauline Kael (apocryphally) was flabbergasted at the victory of Richard Nixon because she knew no one who had voted for him, so all the best sort of people woke yesterday to the impossible news that the angry, unwashed, lumpen folk who live in the wrong postal districts had won! How could it be?
The reaction on the street ripened from near catatonic incredulity to spluttering anger. Like Denmark after the death of the elder Hamlet, all polite society, on the continent and in America as well as in Britain, was contracted in one brow of woe. Yet by the end of the day reality began to reassert itself. The markets had a bad day, and doubtless will have a few more, but the pound, after plunging to a 30-year low, rebounded. David Cameron, who had hitched his wagon to the shooting star of the Remainders, gave what was perhaps the best speech of his career, ending with the announcement of his resignation. But the real news, tomorrow’s bulletin, came from Boris Johnson who, along with Michael Gove, Dan Hannan, and Nigel Farage, was the public face of Brexit. In a speech that was at once mollifying and candid, Boris noted the obvious.
“We cannot turn our backs on Europe,” he said in a speech yesterday. “We are part of Europe. Our children and grandchildren will continue to have a wonderful future as Europeans, traveling to the continent, understanding the language and culture that make up our common European civilization.”
"Our common European civilization.”
It is one of the ironies of the spirit of the European Union that it has turned its back on the essentials of that civilization, beginning with its hostility to the Christian roots of that civilization and proceeding on to its attack on the essentially European values of democracy and individual liberty. Reflecting on the referendum, Boris pointed out that voters decided that it was time “to take back control from a European Union that has become too remote, too opaque and not accountable to the people it is meant to serve.” This is the fundamental message of Thursday’s referendum.
The Remainders wail that the vote was an ignorant rejection of Europe. In fact, it was an assertion of essential European values that the EU, in its sclerotic embrace of bureaucratic totalitarianism, had rejected in fact if not in name. Back in 1775, the Revolutionaries in New England spoke of a shot that was heard around the world. The beneficent populism of the Brexit referendum is likely to be a similarly effective tocsin. Its echoes will reverberate throughout Europe and even in the United States as more and more people rouse themselves from the dogmatic slumbers of their masters.
Brussels represents the undemocratic, unaccountable force of elitist, regulatory despotism. On Thursday, the British people decisively rejected that imposition. It’s only a matter of time before that spirit of liberty starts showing itself elsewhere.
26 June 2016
Why Brexit is More Entrance than Exit
Pop psychologists tell us that grief proceeds through five stages: denial, anger, bargaining, depression, and acceptance. Have been blindsided by the stunning victory of Brexit on Thursday, members of the camp of the Remainders are now vibrating somewhere between anger and bargaining. This followed hard on a brief period of stunned denial that often expressed itself as gulping incredulity. As the psychiatrist Theodore Dalrymple observed in City Journal,
For a long time, Britons who wanted their country to leave the European Union were regarded almost as mentally ill by those who wanted it to stay. The leavers didn’t have an opinion; they had a pathology. Since one doesn’t argue with pathology, it wasn’t necessary for the remainers to answer the leavers with more than sneers and derision.
Even after the vote, the attitude persists. Those who voted to leave are described as, ipso facto, small-minded, xenophobic, and fearful of the future. Those who voted to stay are described as, ipso facto, open-minded, cosmopolitan, and forward-looking.
At this point it is not clear exactly when the Brits will formally invoke Article 50 of the Treaty on European Union and officially begin the withdrawal negotiations. But Thursday's vote made Britain's congé in the most stinging and public manner.
As of this writing, early Sunday morning, the Remainders have yet to take that rebuke on board. They have, however, moved firmly from denial to white hot anger, as the movement to invalidate the referendum by holding a second referendum attests. As of last night, a petition demanding that Parliament force a new referendum had attracted some 2 million signatures.
The fatuousness of that effort is as patent as it is contemptible. Back in 2009, Barack Obama smugly observed that "elections have consequences." Thursday's vote was a non-binding referendum, not an election, but it most assuredly has consequences, as (for example) the immediate announcement by David Cameron, the prime minister, that he would soon be resigning demonstrates.
I expect that the Remainders will soon abandon the petition and move on to more circuitous, backroom maneuvers to subvert or nullify the will of the people. It is at that point, when the delayers and dispensers of red tape arrive with their megaphones, that we'll know that the bargaining stage has been definitively reached. (I am no psychologist, but my observation is that most people, even if they do progress through the five stages described, do not entirely leave behind the earlier stages. There generally persists, I believe, a bit of denial and more than a bit of anger.)
Fraser Nelson, editor of The Spectator, put his finger on one of the most extraordinary features of the Brexit phenomenon: that the vote turned out the way it did despite the Establishment's mobilization of every resource at its command against it. "Never," he wrote in an article for The Wall Street Journal, "has there been a greater coalition of the establishment than that assembled by Prime Minister David Cameron for his referendum campaign to keep the U.K. in the European Union."
There was almost every Westminster party leader, most of their troops and almost every trade union and employers’ federation. There were retired spy chiefs, historians, football clubs, national treasures like Stephen Hawling and divinities like Keira Knightley. And some global glamour too: President Barack Obama flew to London to do his bit, and Goldman Sachs opened its checkbook.
And none of it worked. The opinion polls barely moved over the course of the campaign, and 52% of Britons voted to leave the EU. That slender majority was probably the biggest slap in the face ever delivered to the British establishment in the history of universal suffrage.
I'd say that 52% is closer to "decisive" than "slender," but Nelson's point is well taken. The Remainders threw everything they had into this campaign. It availed them naught. The British people don't like what the commissars in Brussels have been doing to their country. What is euphemistically called "immigration" — really, it is a sort of invasion – was part of the story, but only a part. Remainders seized on immigration as the motivating issue because it was easy to weaponize and use it to castigate those who favored Brexit as troglodytic nativists and reactionaries.
The deeper issue, which was eloquently put forward by Boris Johnson, Dan Hannan, Michael Gove, and Nigel Farage, concerned sovereignty, which, as I observed above, is just a fancy word for freedom.
Tocqueville long ago observed that the trick for democratic regimes was getting the right balance between the twin demands of freedom and security. The European Union is an ostentatious example of what happens when the demand for security submerges the demand for freedom. You get three things: an increasingly corrupt nomenklatura, an anesthetizing regulatory apparatus that stultifies economic initiative, and an alienated public that feels more and more disenfranchised from its own future.
Not anti-Europe but pro-Freedom
As I noted above, the Brexit vote was less an "anti-Europe" vote than a positive assertion of freedom. Indeed, it was by accentuating the positive, by underscoring Britain's native strengths and potential, that Brexiteers like Boris Johnson were able to give affirmative voice to the people's disenchantment. The unease that many Brits felt under the regulatory yoke of the EU is felt by many other people, including many Americans.
As has been often pointed out, that unease helps to explain the success of Donald Trump. Would that Trump had a scintilla of the insight and affirmative spirit of Brexiteers like Boris Johnson, Dan Hannan, Michael Gove, and Nigel Farage. Despite desperate howls to the contrary, the campaign these men waged triumphed not because of what they were repudiating but what they were saying Yes to. Sure, the campaign involved a No to officious interference by corrupt and unaccountable officials across the channel. But the main course was Yes: Yes to freedom, Yes to individual responsible, Yes to deciding for ourselves how we will govern ourselves.
There's a moral here for politicians, and for political pundits. It's unclear, however, whether many people are bothering to read the script.
Focused on Disaster Narrative, Media Ignores Obvious Benefits of Brexit
In almost every situation, Horace's advice was as pragmatic as it was wise. Item: "Aequam memento rebus in arduis servare mentem." Remember, when faced with difficult things, to preserve a calm mind.
I thought about that sage advice when I was at a drinks party last night in London. The mood was grim. The wine, chatter, and conviviality flowed (another bit of Horatian advice, nunc est bibendum, was liberally followed), but behind, and not very far behind, the bonhomie loomed an ominous-looking shadow, as if war had just been declared but the troops had yet to mobilize.
There was near-unanimous agreement among the revelers that last week's referendum on Britain leaving the European Union represented an economic catastrophe of incalculable proportions.
There was also a more-or-less unspoken assumption that it represented a gigantic act of political stupidity and, finally, a sort of moral stain. It was assumed that the EU, whatever its faults, was "for" human rights, the environment, fairness to Muslims, etc., in ways that the angry, nativist population who voted for Brexit couldn't possibly understand.
There was, in short, a current of near panic coruscating about the room, though the intelligent and well-spoken party-goers were too polite to indulge in anything like histrionics. Somewhat muted vituperation, especially against the Brexiteer-in-chief Boris Johnson, there was aplenty. But mostly the assembled multitude was like those doctors Hilaire Belloc described in his poem about little Henry King, whose chief defect was chewing little bits of string:
Physicians of the utmost fame
were called at once; but when they came
The answered (as they took their fees),
"There is no cure of this disease.
Henry will very soon be dead."
I think the doom-and-gloom is vastly overstated. As the Remainders' Bête Blond, Boris Johnson himself observed:
“At home and abroad, the negative consequences [of the Brexit vote] are being wildly overdone, and the upside is being ignored.”
Indeed. As I have observed, repeatedly, the referendum to leave the EU was not a vote to leave Europe. The UK is part of Europe, by spirit and history as well as by geography. The vote was partly a vote against the officious, interfering EU bureaucrats and their vast thicket of prosperity-sapping regulation.
Mostly, however, it was an affirmative vote — a vote for British sovereignty, British freedom.
A balanced alternative view of the consequences of Brexit was set forth more than two years ago by the great James Bennett, the man who popularized the term Anglosphere and who has done as much as anyone to outline its political, economic, and existential advantages.
In an essay called "After the Brexit," which appeared in The New Criterion in January 2014, Bennett compared America's cooperation with Canada on the manufacture of cars — where vehicles are shipped back and forth across the border several times in the process of assembly — to one possible post-Brexit arrangement between the UK and Europe:
[M]uch of the cross-border trade between the United Kingdom and the European Union could continue with relatively simple arrangements comparable to North American arrangements.
As negotiations proceed towards the invocation of Article 50, the formal request to withdraw from the EU, a series of such arrangements could be agreed upon: Britain’s trade with the Continent could continue at something near its current levels.
Bennett acknowledges that that Brexit would likely spark turmoil and a decrease in trade at first, if only because of "market adjustments." He also notes the possibility that some of the diminution of trade and market turmoil would be the result of "spite on the European side" (are you listening, Mr. Juncker?). But he also noted:
[S]ince at present the European Union has a positive trade balance with the United Kingdom (i.e., they export more to the United Kingdom than the United Kingdom does to them), it would really be a case of “cut off their nose to spite their face” to try to reduce that, especially considering the current (and likely future) unemployment levels on the Continent.
There is as much consternation among the Eurocrats on the Continent as there is among the disappointed Remainders in London. A lot of wild things are being said, accusations hurled, and grandstanding is everywhere on display. But I suspect that Bennett is right that cooler heads will soon prevail:
[I]t is reasonable to expect that substantial post-Brexit trade ties will continue between the U.K. and the European Union, perhaps coming near to maintaining current levels. Still, once the U.K. is outside of the European customs union, it is free to strike trade deals for itself, or to join other trade areas or trade arrangements to increase its trade with the rest of the world.
That's one plus. And another concerns the EU's own imposition of trade barriers:
The fact is, the E.U.’s external barriers are fairly substantial in a number of areas, including many in which Britain is a competitive exporter. In E.U. trade talks with potential partners, it is usually the case that various Continental protectionist interests tend to be the limiting factor on striking open deals, to the detriment of British trade. Therefore, it may well be possible to strike better deals on bilateral U.K. trade agreements or on multilateral agreements to which the European Union is not a partner.
Of course, trade is only one issue. My observation is that the two primary issues that propelled the Brexit vote were 1) the desire for sovereignty and (the other side of that coin) an emancipation from the nanny-state regulatory burden imposed by the EU, and 2) immigration.
Many Remainders say that immigration was the chief issue, implying that the Brexiteers, apart from being economically illiterate, were also ungenerous at best and xenophobic at worst. My observation doesn't support that, but there is no doubt that, as Bennett allows:
There’s been a lot of unhappiness in the U.K. over unlimited mass immigration from the European Continent under E.U. rules, particularly because immigrants are eligible for welfare benefits of all sorts almost as soon as they land in Britain, and Britain has no ability to discriminate against them on the grounds that it can’t support itself.
At bottom, it is not the fact of immigration itself so much as intervention of the European Court in British prerogatives that is at issue:
Because of the European Court of Human Rights rulings, Britain can’t deport European criminal aliens, even post-conviction and post-prison sentence, unless it is for a serious crime. When you let criminal aliens in Britain out of prison after finishing their sentences, they can stay in the U.K. and they can go right back on welfare. So understandably people are unhappy about this.
Bennett provides some useful history about the European Court of Human Rights:
[It was] instituted after World War II basically as a way of saying “The European community is going to make it socially unacceptable to murder large segments of your unpopular minority populations.” This was, to understate the matter, never a problem in the United Kingdom, but now the ECHR spends most of its energy forbidding actions like the deportation of criminal aliens.
A similar action was in the matter of family reunification marriages for citizenship purposes— an ECHR state cannot do any investigation to see whether marriage for immigration purposes is a sham or not.
In America, as anybody who has been through the process knows, there is a fairly close scrutiny by the U.S. immigration authorities as to whether a marriage for immigration purposes is bona fide. It’s illegal in Britain because of E.U./ECHR rulings to even ask the question. Withdrawal from the ECHR regime would end such limitations.
James Bennett's measured proposals contrast vividly with the climate of hysteria which has descended on the discussion in the media in London. The Labour Party is in "meltdown." "Trillions" have been erased from the markets. This firm let two thousand people go within 24 hours of Brexit, while others are pulling up stakes and decamping to Paris.
It's all vastly overblown and vastly unhelpful.
Bennett sketches several possible alternatives for an emancipated UK, including membership in the North American Free Trade Agreement, possibly along with Australia and New Zealand, and a Commonwealth free-trade agreement, in which the fifty-three members of the Commonwealth would embrace "a tariff-lowering free trade agreement of the sort that has become very common internationally."
Brexit is not Armageddon, though listening to some of the commentary, you could be forgiven for thinking so. The greatest danger, I suspect, lies in the possibility of self-inflicted wounds.
Today's Telegraph carries a leader with the headline "Defeatist Talk Will Cost Britain Dear." I think that is right. Horace really did have the best advice: when faced with rebus in arduis the best response is to maintain an aequam mentem. That's what Boris is advocating. I hope people listen to him.
Brexit: A Freer, More Democratic, More Internationalist Britain
I was pleased to host a small dinner last night at which Daniel Hannan, the conservative member of the European Parliament, was a guest. Hannan, along with Boris Johnson, Michael Gove, and Nigel Farage, led the Brexit campaign. He will shortly be looking for work. Last Thursday's vote to leave the EU was the culmination of a campaign he embarked upon in 1990 when he was 19. Its success will have effect of abolishing his position as an MEP, but the dynamic young politician was beaming. Britain's exit from the EU and coming assumption of the reins of its own destiny was the fulfillment of a dream.
I cannot tell what proportion of Brexit hysteria is feigned. Among ordinary people, who have listened to months of skirling admonition from Project Fear politicians and special interests, I suspect that the unhappiness is genuine if uninformed. But what are we to make of such hyperbolic absurdities as today's front-page, above-the-fold headline in The Times: "England's Darkest Day”?
Is it really? Is taking a step to recover your sovereignty really worse than, say, the Blitz? Worse that the first day of the battle of the Somme, when the Brits suffered some 57,000 casualties? There is a lot of manufactured melodrama about and Dan Hannan did a splendid job of quashing it. (Some say the headline referred to a sporting event: I am not so sure.)
Hannan let the air out of several of the more perfervid rumors that have sprung up like mushrooms after a rain. As has been widely reported, an online petition is circulating to demand a new referendum. As of last night, it was said to have collected some 3.6 million signatures. But it turns out that many of the "signatories" are from IP addresses outside of Britain, while many others are fake signatures generated by a hacker's script.
It is the same with all the doleful tales of banks and other businesses decamping from Britain. It's all a tissue of fabrication and misrepresentation. In a few brisk sentences, Hannan outlined what really is to come for Britain. The Tories would move quickly to fill the vacuum left by David Cameron's announced resignation. Initially, the likely leader ("the hot favorite," as The Telegraph put it this morning) was Boris Johnson, who the smart money said would be joined by Michael Gove, the Justice Secretary, and (rumors have it) the Cameron stalwart George Osborne, chancellor of the Exchequer. Osborne's support would be (or would have been: see below) particularly welcome since he was a vocal proponent of Britain's remaining in the EU.
The thing that was most encouraging about Dan Hannan's observations was his upbeat assessment of Britain's prospects in the months ahead. Not only did he put paid to the silly scare rumors making the rounds — that Brits would no longer be able to travel in the continent on holiday, for example — but he also outlined several new alliances Britain might make going forward.
The media hysteria will doubtless continue for a while. But it is encouraging that Team Boris is moving with such dispatch and, it must be said, with such a jovial, forward-looking spirit to set the ship of state back on course. (But again, see below.) By contrast, the campaign to put forward the Tory Remainder Theresa May, the home secretary, seems cramped and desperate. (The Times has anointed her as the party favorite, but that is news to the rest of the world.)
It's all happening just in time. As The Telegraph reports this morning, the EU is set to crack down on toasters, hair dryers, and electric tea kettles because some nameless bureaucrat in Brussels has decided they are not sufficiently "green." Really, you cannot make it up. "The EU," the paper reports with a smile, "is poised to ban high-powered appliances such as kettles, toasters, hair-dryers within months of Britain’s referendum vote, despite senior officials admitting the plan has brought them 'ridicule.'” It turns out that the plan has been around for months, but the Eurocrats delayed unveiling it "for fear of undermining the referendum campaign if they were perceived as an assault on the British staples of tea and toast.”
A decade ago, the EU was telling Brits what sort of bananas they could eat. Now it wants to supervise their toasters. It seems ridiculous. It is ridiculous. But out of that tapestry of minor interdictions tyranny is born.
The Brexit vote was not "anti-immigrant," racist, or xenophobic, as the left-wing media keep trying to imply. But it was about the reassertion of British freedom, what Hannan, in an interview yesterday with the truly repellent Christiane Amanpour, called the "repatriation of power." "Are you concerned about a rise in hate crimes following Brexit?" Amanpour several times asked him. When he pointed out that there was no connection between the Brexit vote and "hate crimes," she riposted with, So you don't care about the rise in hate crimes. (And when did you stop beating your wife, Mr. Hannan?)
It is worth watching that interview to see how the left-wing Establishment twists facts and badgers those who do not subscribe to their narrative. Fortunately, Daniel Hannan is as dogged as Christiane Amanpour is hectoring, and he finally managed to set the record straight with a crisp description of what the leave vote was all about: "an internationalist, global Britain, a more deregulated Brtian, a freer Britain, and a more Democratic Britain, one that is interested and engaged with the affairs every continent, including Europe."
The Christiane Amanpours of the world maintain that the Brexit vote was about stopping immigration and asserting racist attitudes. What it really was about is the answer to the question, Who rules? It should not be up to a foreign court to decide who or how many may immigrate to Britain: that is a question for Parliament to decide.
This is how democracies work, but you wouldn't know it from the outpouring of hysteria from the left.
Brexit: A Week on
It was a great privilege to have been in London when a home-grown emancipation proclamation was sounded all across the kingdom in the form of a referendum on "Brexit," on whether Britain should leave the European union. The polls opened last Thursday, just a week ago, but the decision was not clear until the wee hours of Friday morning. I received the first text conveying the glad tidings at about 4:30 a.m.
I say "glad tidings," but as all the world knows now, not everyone believed the tidings were glad. David Cameron, the British Prime Minister, did not think they were glad, as he made clear that morning when he announced his resignation.
Various large banks and other corporate entities were not glad, since their habits of doing business were inured to the sclerotic European model of regulatory overkill.
The commissioners of the European Union, beginning with the gray-on-gray Jean-Claude "Dr. No" Juncker, the President, were not glad, since the vote threatened to disrupt their cozy perquisites and tax-free life styles.
What was at first a little more difficult to understand was the fact that elite opinion across the country was not glad: lawyers, accountants, editors, teachers, businessmen: I spoke to a wide swathe of professionals and was stunned at the unanimity of opinion.
What made it difficult to understand was that the opinion crossed party lines. Tories, at least Tories of a certain stripe, were every bit as unhappy as their Labour compatriots. And that unanimity had reproduced itself in the Untied States: many if not most Republicans one encountered in New York were just as unhappy with Brexit as were their Democratic counterparts.
Elite opinion is a wonderful solvent. It dissolves many barriers, not to say principles. It fosters a wondrous Us-vs.-Them unanimity. It shows us that not all traditional habits are dead.
Brexit and snobbery
Snobbery, for example, is just as powerful circa 2016 anno Domini as it was in the eighteenth century.
Last Wednesday, everyone — almost to a man — assured me that Brexit was not going to happen. The vote might be close — you know how unscrupulous these populist politicians were at appealing to the angry and disaffected masses. But in the end sanity would prevail. The polls said so. Finally we could this nonsense behind us.
The music had changed by Friday morning. As I noted above, the mood moved quickly from denial to anger.
There's still plenty of anger around, but everywhere you can see people beginning to move on to the next stages of grief: bargaining, depression, and acceptance.
The Brexit really was an historic event, and I was glad to be in London to chronicle the run up. Now that I am back in the States, I find several questions about the Brexit vote remain.
Was Brexit a media ploy to raise ratings?
Not at first. But one could be forgiven for thinking so in the aftermath.
The feeding frenzy was extraordinary, as was the extremity of the rhetoric. Consider, to take just one egregious example, Tina Brown's scurrilous attack on Boris Johnson, the former Mayor of London who was a leader of the Brexit campaign (and, until earlier today, the odds-on favorite to be the next Tory leader). "Beware Boris Johnson," her headline scraemed, "The Power of a Cunning Clown." Tina Brown reaches back to his student days to slime Boris as a "sneaky," dishonest, representative of a "peculiarly dangerous British type," the "Gentleman Hack," who is as "hostile to facts" as he is hypocritical. As Queen Gertrude put it in another context, the lady protests too much, methinks.
But Tina Brown's hysterical exhibition is just par for the course. Doubtless she thinks it drives traffic to her gossip site, though Boris's surprise withdrawal from the leadership bid this morning makes it all seem faintly ridiculous.
Not all the media efforts to capitalize on the Brexit votes were exercises in character assassination. There were also various melodramatic arias dilating on the theme of imminent catastrophe. Perhaps the most emetic of these was Simon Tilford's inadvertently comical essay for the "Centre for European Reform" (which might have been called "The Committee of Public Safety") "Dear EU Leaders, Please Handle Britain With Care." "This is not an easy time to be British, or rather English," Mr. Tilford began (cue the violins). "I cannot remember a period when the country was held in such contempt." According to Mr. Tilford,
The derision being heaped on it is fully justified. The Brexit campaign encapsulated all the country’s negative sides: immodesty, surly resentment of foreigners, a preference for style over substance and rose-tinted sentimentality about the past. We are currently hard to like. Schadenfreude at Britain’s difficulties is understandable.
What was Brexit really about?
In a word, British sovereignty. Whatever arrangements the Brits finally decide to make about immigration, bananas, tea kettles, or other items that affect their lives, the Brexit vote was a reaffirmation that the decision should be taken by the British people through their duly elected representatives in Parliament, not unelected and unaccountable officials from Brussels.
So what will happen?
The EU, which means Germany, will make whatever concessions it needs to continue to have unrestricted access to the British market. Britain is the world's fifth largest economy and is one of the world's largest trading nations. Already its market has recovered and the drop in the pound will have the effect of making its goods more competitive. As the geopolitical strategist George Friedman noted yesterday, the world is wrong to think that the emancipation proclamation that was Brexit isolates Britain. The country that is most affected is not Britain but Germany, for which the maintenance of the European free trade zone is "an existential issue."
The bottom line?
There will be some political turmoil in England as disgraced Labor leader Jeremy Corbyn tries to staunch defections from his team and the Tories endeavor to sort out their leadership bid.
I suspect there is a back story to Boris Johnson's surprise withdrawal from the Tory leadership contest this morning. At the moment, the two most likely candidates are the Remainder Theresa May, the Home Secretary, Michael Gove, the Justice Secretary, and Andrea Leadsom, the ferociously articulate MP who was herself an important spokesman for the Leave campaign.
A week is a long time in politics, Harold Wilson is said to have remarked. A week ago, everybody who was anybody thought that the Remain vote would prevail. A few days ago I was assured by a Tory MP (one who was a passionate Remainder) that the next Tory leader would almost certainly be Boris Johnson and if not him then "it had to be a Leaver."
My own sense on Tuesday was that Boris Johnson, Michael Gove, and — seconded from the camp of David Cameron — George Osborne would be the Tory troika that would steam to success in the next general election. My sources now tell me Gove's sudden defection — "Boris cannot provide the leadership or build the team for the task ahead," he said earlier today — has infuriated MPs who supported Boris. So who knows? Right now, the smart money is favoring Theresa May. But a look at what happened last week should remind us of exactly how stupid the smart money often is.
Will Brexit Survive the Bureaucracy?
Let's return for a moment to Simon Tilford's inadvertently comical essay for the Centre for European Reform. It is a sentimental piece pleading, tongue-only-half-in-cheek, that the EU be kind and patient with a doddering UK that had the senile temerity to vote in a way not sanctioned by the elites in London and Brussels.
Never mind that, as the eurosceptic MEP Dan Hannan put it, "more people voted to leave the EU than have voted for anything else, ever," in Britain. The numbers themselves don't count, you see. It's all a matter of who voted. Was it our sort of people? Or was it just the angry, knuckle-dragging, ill-educated bigots who live in the wrong postal codes?
That's a meme that is making the rounds, and if Simon Tilford gets the prize for the single most stomach-turning column to date on the phenomenon of Brexit, the prize for the stupidest column (so far) goes to an American, Joe Klein.
Writing in the posthumous organ Time, Klein courts honorable mention from the Godwin's Law Prize Committee, arguing that the Brexit vote "heralds the return to the grim 1930s." And if invocation of the 1930s — the era of you-know-who in Berlin — were not bad enough, Klein really rubs his readers' noses in it by raising the truly horrifying specter of Donald Trump.
No, it's not original with Klein. But by the time he got around to weighing in on the subject, the idea that Brexit was somehow Britain's equivalent of Donald Trump had congealed into an Crisco-like oleaginous mass. "The passage of Brexit," Klein writes, "and the presence of Donald Trump are the results of a massive lowering of standards [!] that has been promulgated over the past 20 years by the media and the leadership of political parties in both countries, in the pursuit of popularity. This is what happens when democracy grows flabby. The people, when uninterested, must be entertained, and if they can’t be entertained, their fears must be exploited."
Unraveling all the condescending assumptions packed into those few sentences would provide apt material for a lengthy disquisition. Ponder, to take just one element in Klein's effusion, the implications of his suggestion that the reason people voted for Brexit was because democracy had grown "flabby." You can turn in your reflections after the weekend. Typed and double-spaced, please.
In the meantime, think about this further tidbit from Joe Klein:
So let’s make no bones about what happened in Britain. This was not so much a vote against the bureaucratic depredations, real and imagined, of the E.U. It was a vote – by elderly, non-college-educated Brits – against the wild flow of immigrants, most of them benign and excellent workers, but many of them reluctant to assimilate and more than a few of them embracing a faddish, lethal Islamic extremism.
"Faddish"? Extra credit if you include a paragraph on that.
The critical point, however, is snobbery. Who are those "elderly, non-college-educated-Brits" and why is anyone paying attention to them?
A couple of observations. First, the instant recovery of the stock market in the UK and the U.S. has made the Chicken Little diatribes of the Remainders look pretty silly, as have the conciliatory noises emanating from Germany, for whom free access to the British market is an "existential" necessity. Brexit may negatively affect the EU; it will be a huge net positive for the UK.
Second, let me advert to a piece of mental hygiene the Jesuit fathers imparted to us young scholars in high school: "Never deny, seldom affirm, always distinguish."
A tale of two populisms
"Always distinguish." The rise of populist movements in the U.S. and in Europe is no doubt important. Neither Donald Trump nor the campaign for Brexit is intelligible without taking account of that populism.
But when one compares the phenomenon of Donald Trump and Brexit, the differences are at least as important as the similarities. For one thing, the Trump candidacy is all about Donald Trump. Yes, he is riding a large wave of discontent. But he is the focus of the phenomenon.
Brexit is not about personalities but issues. It has spokesmen, not celebrity impresarios. It is primarily about what Dan Hannan has called "the repatriation of sovereignty" from the EU to Britain.
But the Left-liberal establishment, in the UK even more than in the U.S., knows that the specter of Donald Trump is a reliable boogey man: drag him into any polite conversation and you can be certain of an instant visceral reaction against whatever movement he supposedly resembles.
In this sense, Donald Trump is a red herring, a bit of negative rhetorical filigree that people like Joe Klein deploy to smear the pro-Brexit campaign.
I am not sure how effective that strategy is, but it is fast becoming clear that the smug redoubts of the Remainders are determined to do everything they can to frustrate the will of the British people.
Viewers (and readers) of Antony Jay and Jonathan Lynn's Yes, Minister and Yes, Prime Minister will fondly recall the machinations of Permanent Secretary Sir Humphrey Appleby (Nigel Hawthorne) to make sure that the will of the Civil Service triumphs over whatever initiatives his boss, the hapless Jim Hacker, proposes. Considered as satire, it is extremely funny, partly because its portrayal of bureaucratic sclerosis, back-peddling, and mulish obstruction of anything that would challenge conventional wisdom seemed so true to life.
But satire remains funny only so long as there is a healthy distance between reality and the thing satirized. Sir Humphrey is funny and not horrifying because there is a prominent element of exaggeration in his antics. The satire is pointed because it is so true to life. It is funny because life is not, in the end, quite so bad.
Or is it? The votes over Brexit had hardly been counted before various strategies to ignore or overturn the vote were put forth. Some die-hard Remainers circulated a petition to demand a second referendum. If the people didn't vote the right way the first time, make them vote again. It's a strategy the the EU has employed with success. When the benighted populace voted against the EU Constitution, the mandarins in Brussels simply rewrote it in more unintelligible terms and, presto, the Lisbon Treaty was born. One Labour politician recommended that Parliament simply ignore the referendum. Various pundits proposed complicated legal or parliamentary schemes to circumvent the vote.
But so far probably the most effective strategy to block the implementation of Brexit has been the Appleby-like imposition of bureaucratic obfuscation. Fortunately, prominent Leave partisans like Douglas Carswell, William Cash, Dan Hannan, and David Campbell Bannerman are onto the scheme and are responding vigorously. "I fear the civil service has become an agency of the EU," said Bannerman, a conservative, eurosceptic MEP. "Many officials regard their jobs as enabling the EU in the UK, rather than representing the UK in Europe."
Douglas Carswell, UKIP MP for Clacton, echoed the charge: "Project Fear is giving way to Project Backsliding," he said. "The establishment is doing everything it can to dilute what Leave means. . . . We can't possibly entrust this process to the same civil servants that have been tangled up in this mess for the last 40 years."
William Cash, a eurosceptic MP who chairs a parliamentary committee monitoring the Brexit negotiations, was more upbeat. He acknowledged that "a lot of people want to obstruct the democratic will of the British people," but concluded that "the civil servants are duty-bound to carry out the will of Government."
"We are assuming that leave means leave," Cash said, "and expect whatever arrangements are made to be based on repealing the 1972 European Communities Act. Once repealed, that will carry away every treaty and every piece of European legislation that has ever been passed."
I hope he is right. Sir Humphrey was unavailable for comment.
Coda: Does Brexit Mean Brexit?
So where are we now? For a day or two after Michael Gove threw Boris Johnson under the bus (prompting several commentators to invoke Machiavelli and one to describe him as "a Machiavellian psychopath"), the struggle for the Tory leadership, and hence the Premiership, seemed to be between Gove, the apostle of Brexit, and Theresa May, the Establishment Remainder. Then futures in Gove, Inc. plummeted. Most observers believe that Gove's treachery did for him. For a few days, Andrea Leadsom. a passionate Brexiteer, seemed to present a serious challenge to May. But just this morning, Leadsom withdrew from the leadership contest, effectively handing the palm to Theresa May.
During the battle over Brexit, May had been notably reserved, waiting until the final days of the context to declare herself a “reluctant” Remainer. After the vote, and after the threw her hat into the leadership contest, May several times has declared that “Brexit Means Brexit.” Her ties to Establishment opinion led many in the Brexit camp to wonder if she was serious about that. With Andrea Leadsom’s sudden and surprising withdrawal, we will know the answer to that rather sooner than was expected: the Tory leadership vote was to have been September 9, but now that May has the field to herself, there is nothing to prevent David Cameron from stepping down and handing the premiership to her. So May Day will come early this year. Let’s see if it respects what the people demanded in their vote of June 23.