Brexit: The Long Goodbye
This article is from the archive of The New York Sun before the launch of its new website in 2022. The Sun has neither altered nor updated such articles but will seek to correct any errors, mis-categorizations or other problems introduced during transfer.
Britain’s return today to independence is a momentous moment that is all the sweeter for the intensity of the struggle for Brexit during the past three and a half years. It marks the redemption of a country that chose democratic means to repair a mistake and triumphed over a truculent and demagogic resistance at home and bitter reaction abroad. It is, among other things, a bet on America at a time when we will need all the friends we can get.
Much of the history was reprised this week by one of the heroes of the struggle for independence, Nigel Farage, who delivered on Wednesday a high-spirited speech in the European Parliament’s hemicycle at Brussels. Mr. Farage had first been elected to the body in 1999. He spoke of how his parents had signed up to a common market, “not to a political union, not to flags, anthems, presidents.” Nor the army Europe now wants.
Mr. Farage spoke of how his view had changed after the failure of Europe to secure the required unanimous ratification of its constitution — a parchment that was rejected in referenda in the Netherlands and France (our Elliott Banfield’s famed cartoon is above). Then, Mr. Farage said, “I saw you, in these institutions, ignore them” and bring in the Lisbon Treaty “and ram it through” without referenda. He ended up “an outright opponent of the entire European project.”
“What do we want from Europe?” Mr. Farage then asked. He made it clear he was not against Europeans. “We want trade, friendship, cooperation, reciprocity.” But not to be ruled. “We don’t need a European Commission, we don’t need a European Court, we don’t need these institutions and all of this power … we love Europe, we just hate the European Union.” He expressed the hope that “this begins the end of this project, it’s a bad project.”
The EU’s problem, Mr. Farage said, is not just that it’s “undemocratic. It’s anti-democratic.” It confers on its mandarins “power without accountability, people who cannot be held to account by the electorate.” He spoke of the “historic battle” in the west — “globalism versus populism.” The European Parliament “may loath populism,” he warned, but it was “becoming very popular.” Then he began to waive the Union Jack, for which he was cut off. He took his leave.
There is another side to this story, of course. It was articulated most eloquently this week, as it so often is, in a long, reported column by Anne Applebaum, now of the Atlantic. She followed the honored journalistic injunction to visit the losers. Some had been subjected in the heat of the fray to an undeserved obloquy. She found them nursing their wounds, at least for the moment, but suggests that, as the headline put it, “signs of future conflict are already evident.”
Our own view of Brexit, often expressed in these columns, is that it couldn’t have prospered as an anti-immigration movement, even if the EU’s usurpation of control over immigration was bothering millions of decent people. Brexit was secured by a group for whom Boris Johnson became the leading tribune (and eventually premier). That group began to focus on the opportunities that would be opened by what Mr. Johnson called the “sunny meadows” of liberty.
This point has been well-marked throughout by our Brexit diarist, Stephen MacLean. In his latest column he quoted the 18th century Whig Horace Walpole’s line after the Seven Years’ War warning “Our bells are worn threadbare with ringing for victories.” He’s wary of Mr. Johnson’s promises of big spending conservatism. He’s warned against inverting Prime Minister Thatcher’s famous words at Bruges.
That’s where the Iron Lady said that Britons “have not successfully rolled back the frontiers of the state in Britain, only to see them re-imposed at a European level with a European super-state exercising a new dominance from Brussels.” Mr. MacLean asks: “have Britons’ ‘successfully rolled back the frontiers of Brussels, only to see them re-imposed at Westminster’?”
In this sense, Brexit is only the beginning. Ahead lies not just the negotiating of final details by an independent Britain. Nor reaching a trade deal with America. It’s also securing pro-liberty agenda in Britain itself. And, in our opinion, nursing the revolt against world government and the mother of all multilateral institutions, the United Nations. We don’t mind saying that we relish the coming contest.