A primer on Brexit for Americans who dare to harbour sympathy with the Remainers

A primer on Brexit for Americans who dare to harbour sympathy with the Remainers

Sitting under the “rockets’ red glare” on July 4th this year, witnessing the patriotism and pride of all Americans, irrespective of their political affiliation, I could not help but puzzle over the general animus and disdain that much of the American mainstream media and academia hold for Brexit.

How could a country forged in the flame of Independence, with a pertinacious commitment to be a united nation of “free and independent States”, be so dismissive of another united nation’s democratic decision to take back control of its own destiny?

An opinion columnist in the New York Times back in the spring declared that the “United Kingdom has gone mad… and can’t even decide how to kill itself”. On Merionwest, a regular essayist declared that Brexit “has been calamitous for the economy”. These allegations are worse than unsubstantiated hyperbole, they are the sort of ‘fake news’ that Trump trades in.

Au contraire, for the facts tell a different story. The British economy has the highest levels of employment in modern history and the highest levels of Foreign Direct Investment of any EU country. Indeed, UK plc enjoys better growth than Germany. The reality is that, despite predictions by the then Chancellor of the Exchequer (an unrepentant ‘Remainer’) that a Leave vote would cause an “immediate and profound” economic shock with “rising unemployment and a recession”, the sky has still not fallen in.

The facts show that none of the doomsday predictions have come true. So why is it that the establishment continues to frame the most existential British political quandary of our time as being an issue of ‘right or wrong’?

It isn’t.

Those in power will always prefer the status quo, so trying to frame such a critical socio-political issue in terms of who is right and who is wrong is not only intellectually lazy and dishonest, it is politically disingenuous. The issue that divides Britain isn’t that one group is wrong. It is that one group holds a different set of principles and values to the other. Neither set are misanthropic, nor malevolent.

‘Remainers’ believe in the power of collectivism; that individuals and their nation state should put aside their innate values and beliefs in the interest of a greater good; that the world would be a better place as a one-planet collective where separate creeds, tribes and cultures coalesce into a world that sings “in perfect harmony” – a federated world guided and controlled by a mother ship that guarantees ‘liberty, equality and fraternity’ for every single individual.

This is a bold and noble aspiration; an ambition that shouldn’t be ridiculed as naïve or progressive but, rather, respected for its inspiring imagination. After all, it makes sense to address the threats of climate change, excessive and irresponsible capitalism, international tax loopholes, extreme religions, international terrorism and the impending challenges of a world dominated by networks that democracies no longer control, and intelligent machines that may be uncontrollable.

‘Leavers’, on the other hand, believe in the power of individual rights with mutual responsibility; that nation states should be run by directly elected and accountable representatives who have direct control over a country’s borders, laws, security, currency, economic policy, taxation and trade; that cultural identity, national values and patriotic personality should be celebrated in a world of diversity and individuality – a world of Independent yet Interdependent nation states.

If appealing to the principles at the heart of the United States ‘Declaration of Independence’ isn’t enough, perhaps the Brexit naysayers in America should inhale some more facts – facts that give the 17.4 million Leavers confidence in the future success and prosperity of a Global Britain freed from the shackles of the EU.

Britain is the fifth largest economy on the planet. Do they really believe every other nation or trading bloc will not want to trade with us under mutually favourable terms?

To add fuel to the Leavers’ fire, it is a nation state that:

  • has one of the most respected and proven armed forces, intelligence services and diplomatic corps in the world
  • is the leader of the Commonwealth, a coalition of 53 independent countries with a congenital legal system and a population of 2.4 billion people, almost 5 times larger than the EU, of whom 60% are under 29 – an economic powerhouse, with GDP approaching $10 trillion and a growth rate that is nearly three times higher than the EU.
  • enjoys a reputation as one of the most influential arts and creative cultures on earth
  • has the most respected and revered legal, governance and democratic architectures
  • is home to four of the top ten universities in the world (when the UK leaves, the EU will be left with no universities in the top ranking)
  • has a capital city that is one of the world’s leading financial and international business centres; as well as being one of the most desirable tourism destinations – a city and a country that the great and the good, the rich and powerful, like to call home.

If all these inherent socio-economic advantages are not enough to alleviate the hysteria of the doubters, perhaps the fact that our native language just happens to be the lingua franca of the globe will add some cold comfort to their negativity.

Yet I still hear the clarion calls of cynicism and doom, so let me chronicle an analogy that is closer to home for US doom-mongers. Imagine that 50 years after signing NAFTA, a small group of politicians and bureaucrats determined that along with free trade, Canada, the United States and Mexico should also create the North American Union. The NAU. A federated nation with its own Supreme Court, central bank, common immigration policy, common agricultural policy, centralised foreign policy, free movement of people, its own flag, its own national anthem and led by a group that is not directly elected by citizens and who harbour a brazenly stated ambition of unified armed forces and a centralised fiscal and taxation policy.

Does anyone seriously imagine, let alone believe or propagate the idea, that the same people who clasp their hand to their chests and replicate the bombs bursting in the air every Independence Day would embrace such a union?

Yet this is the history of today’s European Union. It was conceived originally in 1950 as a ‘European Coal and Steel Community’ to create a trading bloc that would act as a well-meaning prophylactic against Europe’s history of war, just in case the formation of NATO wasn’t protective enough. The ambition for a federated union morphed first into a free trade area known as the European Economic Community, which Britain joined in 1973. Then ultimately gave birth, via the Maastricht Treaty and then the Lisbon Treaty, to a political union with its own constitution and led by the European Commission – a body whose Members are not directly elected or accountable to the citizens or voters in any of the Member States, and the only body that can write or withdraw primary legislation. At no stage since joining in 1973 were Britons given any vote in this relentless march towards European federalism.

These are the facts, and the historical context, that any fair-minded and rational critic should consider before lambasting the majority of Brits who chose to give up membership of the European Union (or indeed before sympathising with the minority who preferred to Remain).

Yet, beyond facts and history, ‘Leavers’ simply embraced the principle of an independent nation state. They voted with their heart as well as their heads and wallets. Their choice echoed history; formed in a crucible of emotion, not just in the logic of debate. Great Britain is today an ‘emocracy’, a term coined by Ayaan Hirsi Ali to reflect the reality that politics is as much about ideas, principles and values as it is about policy, facts and reason.

With that reality in mind, it seems fair and reasonable that, when debating the binary choice given to the British people in the biggest plebiscite in their history, their democratic choice is respected. A clear majority chose to “leave the European Union”, clearly stated on the ballot paper – a majority whose government explicitly committed to “implementing their decision”, whose Parliament was elected by 82% of the country on manifestos to deliver Brexit and whose MPs voted overwhelmingly to leave the EU voluntarily.

Despite the subsequent betrayal by those MPs in Westminster, those in America who side with the minority should not dismiss the majority of British voters as being “wrong”. ‘Leavers’ just have a different set of principles and values to those who chose to vote ‘Remain’. ‘Remainers’ may believe their principles and values are better. They may be right.

However, a majority were motivated by a different, yet equally considered, code. What is the point of a liberal representative democracy if not to champion and reflect the principles and values of the majority?

That principle should be respected and held to account every day in the ‘land of the free’.

This is an edited version of a piece first published as a letter in MerionWest.