Charles C.W. Cooke analyzes (not “analyses”) Thursday’s referendum for Britain to exit the European Union:
So, what now?
The immediate answer is: Nothing. As the prime minister made clear in his resignation speech this morning, it will be months before the government triggers Article 50 and initiates withdrawal proceedings, and, even after it has done that, progress is likely to be sedulous and slow. In time, there will be fireworks. But for now there are markets to calm and voters to unite, and there is at least one leadership election to stage. Triumphant as the Leave campaign may be feeling this morning, last night was less akin to Agincourt and more akin to the second meeting of the Great Council. Yes, the United Kingdom has declared its independence; but the fighting has only just begun.
I have seen it suggested — or, perhaps, hoped — that the powers-that-be will simply “ignore” the vote to leave. This is not going to happen. In a strictly legal sense, Parliament is sovereign and can do as it wishes. In consequence, this referendum was technically not binding. Culturally, though, any indication that the government was trying to defy the voters would trigger a catastrophic constitutional crisis. Speaking in front of Downing Street this morning, David Cameron set the tone: “The British people,” he confirmed, “have voted to leave the EU and their will must be respected.” “The will of the British people,” Cameron added, “is an instruction that must be delivered.” Sadly for him, the task of making that delivery will fall to his successor.
As during the General Election of 2015, Pauline Kaelism was on full display throughout the proceedings. Announcing the result last night, most of the TV anchors and pundits looked genuinely shocked. How, they seemed to ask, could the polls have been so wrong once again? After all, nobody in a position of national influence seemed to know anybody who was voting Leave.
As in 2015, the simple answer was that the public lies to pollsters. And who can blame it? I have spent quite a lot of time in the U.K. over the last month, and I have been startled by the condescension, the disdain, and the downright bullying that I have seen from advocates within the Remain camp. That this morning I am seeing precisely the same attitudes on display has left me wondering whether the British chattering classes are capable of learning new tricks. More than 17 million voters opted for Leave yesterday, and yet to take their opponents at face value would be to conclude that this vast and diverse coalition of citizens was little more than a revanchist, hate-filled, antediluvian rump. It is certainly the case that the center-right opted overwhelmingly for exit. But it is notable that the election was won not on the playing fields of Eton or in the leafy gardens of England’s Home Counties, but in the industrial Northeast and the blue-collar Midlands. Indeed, as the Mirror and others have observed, Leave’s margin was provided not by a surfeit of conservatives, but by working-class social democrats who traditionally vote Labour but whose concerns are increasingly out of sync with the rest of their party. (This, incidentally, is another reason that Parliament could not get away with ignoring the result of the referendum: Because UKIP is nipping at Labour’s heels throughout the country — and because there is strong anti-EU sentiment among at least a third of Labour voters — the Labour party’s leadership knows that to sign onto any coup would be to sign its own electoral death warrant.) Britain’s decision to extricate itself from the EU was patriotic, not nationalistic.
In our present climate, it is customary for cosmopolitan sorts to accuse anybody who dissents from the European project of being an unreconstructed “nationalist.” Insofar as this describes the dissenters’ desire to return power to their own parliament and to ensure that their vote matters as much as it should, it is an accurate term. Outside of that, however, it is a slur, and a damnable one at that. George Orwell contended that the difference between patriotism and nationalism was that patriotism involved “devotion to a particular place and a particular way of life, which one believes to be the best in the world but has no wish to force on other people,” while nationalism “is inseparable from the desire for power.” By this definition at least, Britain’s decision to extricate itself from the EU was patriotic, not nationalistic. Indeed, if there is any group within the debate that seeks to impose “a particular way of life . . . on other people,” it is the one that wants ever-closer integration into Europe, and, eventually, a federal super-state.
Another term that has been casually thrown around over the past few hours is “isolationist.” But this, too, is misplaced. Now, as ever, Britain remains committed to commerce and to free trade, and there is no good reason that this should change simply because it is not privileging Europe over the rest of the world. At present, the EU is engaged with about the same amount of trade with the U.K. as with the United States. Unless the French or the Germans wish to damage themselves and the world by throwing a strop, there is no good reason that this should change. Nor, for that matter, should Britain’s leaving the EU have much of an effect on either of the two organizations that have kept Europe at peace for the last seven decades: those, of course, being NATO and the United States military. Once the exit is complete, there will be a dramatic change in how and where the United Kingdom’s decisions are made. What those decisions are, however, is up to the electorate. If Britain wishes to trade with the world, it can. If it wishes to engage militarily, it can. If it wishes to reconstruct some of the EU’s apparatus while retaining its sovereignty, it can do that as well. Naturally, there will tradeoffs along the way — clearly, it won’t all be sweetness and light — but there were problems with the status quo, too. At least by taking full control of its affairs, Britain will have the flexibility to experiment and to adapt.
Before all that, though, there is a serious hangover to dispense with. And it’s going to get quite a bit worse before it gets better.
It’s also going to get more numerous. London’s Daily Express reports:
Politicians across Europe have called for their own referendums in the wake of Britain’s historic decision to quit the EU.
Italy’s anti-establishment 5-Star movement has now officially called for a referendum on whether to keep the Euro.
Buoyed by big gains in local elections, Luigi Di Maio, a vice president of the lower house of parliament, said: “We want a consultative referendum on the Euro.
“The Euro as it is today does not work. We either have alternative currencies or a ‘Euro 2’.
“We entered the European Parliament to change many treaties.“The mere fact that a country like Great Britain even held a referendum on whether to leave the EU signals the failure of the European Union.”
The 5-Star movement has called for two different currencies in Europe, one for the rich northern countries another for southern nations.
While any such referendums on the EU or the Euro would be merely test public opinion because Italian law does not allow referendums to change international treaties, a victory would send a clear signal to the government, especially in the wake of Brexit.
Brexit is a huge blow to Italian Prime Minister Matteo Renzi’s Democratic Party and was hailed by supporters of 5-Star as a possible springboard to Italian independence.
In France, National Front party leader Marine Le Pen promised voters their own referendum as she declared her support for Brexit.
She said: “I would have voted for Brexit. France has a thousand more reasons to leave than the UK because we have the euro and Schengen.
“This result shows the EU is decaying, there are cracks everywhere.”
Experts across the continent warned today that Brexit would lead to the entire break-up of Europe.
The leader of the far-right Danish People’s Party says Denmark should now follow Britain’s lead and hold a referendum on its membership.
Party leader Kristian Thulesen Dahls said if the Danish parliament cannot agree on reforms with the EU a referendum could give Denmark a new opportunity.
He said: “If a majority in parliament for some reason will not be involved in this, why not ask the Danes in a referendum decide the case?”
If Denmark goes ahead, Irene Wennemo, state secretary to SWEDEN’S minister for employment, said the anti-EU sentiment could spread through Scandinavia and raise the possibility of a vote in Sweden.
Eurosceptic feeling is also surging in the Netherlands, with two-thirds of voters rejecting a Ukraine-EU treaty on closer political and economic ties.
Anti-EU politician Geert Wilders declared the result the “beginning of the end” for the Dutch government and the EU.
Daniel Mitchell sees nine impacts, the fourth of which may or may not be accurate:
2. Brexit is a vote against centralization, bureaucratization, and harmonization. It also is a victory for more growth, though the amount of additional long-run growth will depend on whether the UK government seizes the opportunity for lower taxes, less red tape, and a smaller burden of government.
3. President Obama once again fired blanks. Whether it was his failed attempt early in his presidency to get the Olympic Games in Chicago or his feckless attempt in his final year to get Britons to remain in the EU, Obama has a remarkably dismal track record. Maybe I can get him to endorse the Boston Red Sox, thus ensuring the Yankees make it to the World Series?
Speaking of feckless foreign leaders, but I can’t resist the temptation to point out that the Canadian Prime Minister’s reaction to Brexit wins a prize for vapidity. It would be amusing to see Trudeau somehow justify this absurd statement, though I suspect he’ll be too busy expanding government andsquandering twenty-five years of bipartisan progress in Canada.
Potential mea culpa…I can’t find proof that Trudeau actually made this statement. Even with the excuse that I wrote this column at 3:00 AM, I should have known better than to believe something I saw on Twitter (though I still think he’s vapid).
5. Nigel Farage and UKIP have voted themselves out of a job. A common joke in Washington is that government bureaucracies never solve problems for which they were created because that would eliminate their excuse for existing. After all, what would “poverty pimps” do if there weren’t poor people trapped in government dependency? Well, Brexit almost surely means doom for Farage and UKIP, yet they put country above personal interest. Congratulations to them, though I’ll missFarage’sacerbic speeches.
6. The IMF and OECD disgracefully took part in “Project Fear” by concocting hysterical predictions of economic damage if the U.K. decided to get off the sinking ship of the European Union. To the extent there is some short-term economic instability over the next few days or weeks, those reckless international bureaucracies deserve much of the blame.
7. As part of his failed effort to influence the referendum, President Obama rejected the notion of quickly inking a free-trade agreement with the UK. Now that Brexit has been approved, hopefully the President will have the maturity and judgement to change his mind. Not only should the UK be first in line, but this should be the opportunity to launch the Global Free Trade Association that my former Heritage Foundation colleagues promoted last decade. Unfettered trade among jurisdictions with relatively high levels of economic freedom, such as the US, UK, Australia, Switzerland, New Zealand, Chile, etc, would be a great way of quickly capturing some of the benefits made possible by Brexit.
8. David Cameron should copy California Governor Jerry Brown. Not for anything recent, but for what he did in 1978 when voters approved an anti-tax referendum known as Proposition 13. Brown naturally opposed the referendum, but he completely reversed himself after the referendum was approved. By embracing the initiative, even if only belatedly, he helped his state and himself. That would be the smart approach for Cameron, though there’s a distinct danger that he could do great harm to himself, his party, and his country by trying to negotiate a deal to somehow keep the UK in the EU.
9. Last but not least, I’m very happy to be wrong about the outcome. I originally expected that “Project Fear” would be successful and that Britons would choose the devil they know over the one they don’t know. Well, I’m delighted that Elizabeth Hurley and I helped convince Britons to vote the right way. We obviously make a good team.
Joking aside, the real credit belongs to all UK freedom fighters, even the disaffected Labour Party voters who voted the right way for wrong reasons.
I’m particularly proud of the good work of my friends Allister Heath of the Telegraph, Eamonn Butler of the Adam Smith Institute, Dan Hannan of the European Parliament, and Matthew Elliott of Vote Leave. I imagine Margaret Thatcher is smiling down on them today.
Regarding Mitchell’s numbers three and seven, The Hill reports:
A leading figure in the British push to exit the European Union says President Obama accidentally helped the Brexit cause.
Nigel Farage on Friday said Obama’s calls for the United Kingdom to stay in the EU caused people to vote to leave.
“Threatening people too much insults their intelligence,” the United Kingdom Independence Party head said.
“A lot of people in Britain said, ‘How dare the American president come here and tell us what to do?’ ” Farage continued on Sirius XM’s “Breitbart News Daily,” citing Obama’s U.K. trip in April.
“It backfired. We got an Obama-Brexit bounce, because people do not want foreign leaders telling them how to think and vote.” …
Obama warned Britain against leaving the EU during a visit in April, saying it could hurt potential trade deals with the U.S.
“The U.K. is going to be in the back of the queue,” he said during an appearance alongside Cameron.
“Not because we don’t have a special relationship but because given the heavy lift of any trade agreement, us having access to a big market with a lot of countries rather than trying to do piecemeal trade agreements is hugely inefficient.”
“The world doesn’t listen to him,” the presumptive GOP presidential nominee said during a press conference in Turnberry, Scotland.
Trump said he wholeheartedly backed Britain’s decision to leave the EU and once again forge its own path.
“You just have to embrace it,” he said. “It’s the will of the people. What happened should have happened, and they’ll be stronger for it.”
Farage on Friday said Britain’s exit from the EU could ultimately jeopardize the organization’s existence.
“I think we’ve changed not just the future of British history, I’m sure the European Union project itself will come tumbling down. People power can beat the establishment if they try hard enough.”