The Real Lesson of Brexit
by Patrick Barron
Following the surprise vote by the UK to leave the European Union, most commentators are trying to understand the rationale behind the British vote. Let me be a contrarian and ask, why does it matter? Undoubtedly there is no single reason that millions of British citizens voted the way they did. Furthermore, there is no objective way of determining whether or not leaving really is advantageous for Britain, although most mainstream media are wringing their hands that the British vote was “wrong”. The real lesson of Brexit is that the British citizenry exercised their sovereign right in a fair, democratic referendum and chose to change the way they are governed. This lesson is not being lost of the rest of Europe’s citizenry, who now are energized to get binding referendums on the ballots of their own countries.
The fact is that the European Union is NOT a sovereign entity. In fact Britain itself–and by extension, all the rest of the EU’s member states–are not ultimate sovereign entities either. The individual citizen is sovereign. THIS is the lesson of Brexit. THIS is the lesson that the British have given to the citizenry of Europe: i.e., that they CAN leave the EU after all, because they are the true sovereign entities.
Compared to the rest of Europe, the question of whether British citizens had a right to a Remain/Leave referendum was never very controversial. Through various venues the people were demanding a vote. To his credit Prime Minister David Cameron announced that he agreed, even though he desired that Britain stay in the EU and campaigned for this result. He even gave his cabinet members the freedom to campaign as their conscience demanded. When the Leave side won, he forthrightly stepped down. This example of statesmanship reminds me of what was said of the traitorous Thane of Cawdor in Shakespeare’s Macbeth, that “Nothing in his life became him like the leaving it.”
And what of the rest of Europe? Well, implicitly even the EU elite have accepted the British decision, although they are not above trying to modify it in ways to ensure that Britain still pays into the EU’s coffers. The last time I checked there were no reports of EU invasion barges arriving at ports in Calais, preparing for a modern Norman or Nazi invasion. There have been no reports of British subjects being arrested, their assets confiscated, and being imprisoned or expelled from the Continent. The biggest threat seems to be that the EU will erect high tariffs against British goods and restrictions on British financial services. Oh, the Humanity! If the new British government were wise– which is highly unlikely!– it would declare unilateral free trade and ignore the threats. The EU may indeed take such action, but it would harm its own citizens to just as great an extent as British citizens. Trade restrictions harm both countries, whose individual citizens wish to trade in order to better their lives.
But, again, this is NOT the main point. It is impossible and irrelevant to tally gains and losses when one country bars trade with another. The main point of the Brexit referendum has always been that the British people have a right to change their form of government in a peaceful manner. I fully expect that the citizenry of other EU countries will do what is necessary to get their own Remain/Leave referendums on their respective national ballots. Their task will not be as easy as that of the British, but now that they have seen that it can be done there is little doubt that more such referendums will follow. Whether their citizens decide to Remain or Leave, the big winner will be the reaffirmation of the peoples’ right to self government.