Britain Verges On Defeat Over Brexit
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.
Mark your calendars for April 12. For the clock is reset on that date for Britain regaining independence. Reaching that date, with Brexit unhampered and unsullied, is the new goal. Nothing stands between Britons and freedom but the political class on either side of the English Channel. Yet with another series of votes tonight, parliamentarians seem determined to snatch defeat from the jaws of victory.
Too bad British MPs forgot their Aristotle. He counseled that some political acts “are so called as being evil in themselves.” Politicians cannot “save” Brexit by sacrificing British liberties a bit here and a bit there. “It is not excess or deficiency of them that is evil,” Aristotle cautioned. “It is impossible to act rightly; one is always wrong.”
Brexiteers who buckled last week to support Prime Minister Theresa May’s flawed Withdrawal Agreement, citing the “lesser evil” argument, don’t get a pass from Aristotle, either. To wit: “Nor does acting rightly or wrongly in such cases depend upon circumstances.”
Thus surveying the available candidates to usher Brexit to victory and finding the field wanting in my last wire, I quoted the Psalmist, “Put not your trust in princes.” I add now the verse’s concluding lines. “. . . Nor in the son of man, in whom there is no help.”
My point is simple. One should never endorse, carte blanche, any political program just because people voted for it. Scepticism and due diligence are always in order. Brexit is the right thing to do not because the majority of Britons voting in the 2016 referendum — 17.4 million — decided to exit the European Union. Brexit is the right thing to do because its principles are laid upon the foundations of justice.
Brexit is for self-government over vassalage. Brexit would put Britain in charge of its own affairs once more — taking control of border security, trade policy, financial autonomy — away from an increasingly centralizing EU. With luck, Brexit would be a harbinger for yet more independence in Britain, moving powers from Westminster and the regional assemblies back to the people themselves.
The irony is that Brexit, contrary to being an aberration in the history of European civilization, is a paean to the culture and traditions that underpin a thousand years of social, economic, and artistic accomplishment. Anti-Brexiteers add insult to injury when, in addition to criticizing Britain’s heroic struggle to regain her independence, they reproach it as an attack upon Europe itself.
Such nonsense is highlighted when a self-appointed élite warns that “Europe as an idea is falling apart before our eyes.”
“Europe is being attacked by false prophets,” proclaims its manifesto. “Abandoned by the two great allies” — America and Britain — “who in the previous century twice saved it from suicide,” Europe must fight “a new battle for civilization” and “ward off the new signs of totalitarianism.”
“Our faith is in the great idea that we inherited,” they vow. “We must now fight for the idea of Europe or see it perish beneath the waves of populism.”
Yet Parliament is put to the test again. To abide by principle and the people’s choice to leave, and allow “no deal” to become law on April 12. Or to succumb to a “soft” Brexit and abide by the EU’s sclerotic rules on trade.
Negotiating a customs union with Brussels is especially galling to Brexiteers, for it binds Britain’s ability to set its own tariff and regulatory regime. Future bilateral trade deals with America and other growing economies are effectively curtailed.
Scotland’s “father of economics” would be floored. Adam Smith celebrated society’s “innate” abilities to create, innovate, trade — the “certain propensity in human nature . . . to truck, barter, and exchange one thing for another.” Now Parliament threatens to thwart those natural rights that gave rise to the Industrial Revolution and made Britain the shopkeeper to the world.
Brexit is but an echo of the perennial question of European civilization: the individual versus the state. “Man is not ordained to the body politic, according to all that he is and has,” Thomas Aquinas wrote; “and so it does not follow that every action of his acquires merit or demerit in relation to the body politic.” The contest in Parliament will decide the victors: Britons or Brussels bureaucrats. Who wins will reverberate across Europe. “Fiat justitia ruat cælum.” Though the heavens may fall, let justice be done.