Whatever else one might say about Europe’s chief Brexit negotiator, Michel Barnier, he certainly has some brass. He’s reported by Breitbart London as asserting that the EU and the United Kingdom have a “common responsibility” to agree on a deal and stop a clean break without one.
Whence comes such responsibility? What grants Mr. Barnier the gumption to speak on behalf of the United Kingdom? Let alone for Brexit? On that front, mere passive support for UK independence is insufficient. Britons must do more. “It is not enough that genius be opposed to genius,” Viscount Bolingbroke maintained. “Spirit must be matched by spirit.”
Mr. Barnier may speak for Brussels bureaucrats without fear of blowback. Arrogating to themselves the will of EU member states is second nature to these mandarins, but it hardly betokens accountability.
Does Mr. Barnier speak for the sovereign states themselves? Or, more importantly, for the sovereign people therein? That the discontented citizens of several EU members, whether in Italy, Germany, or his native France look to Brexit for inspiration and guidance, belies his political omnipotence.
Is there an EU member state that does not bristle under Brussels’ thumb? Whose subservient sovereignty thus engenders a heroic band of freedom fighters? For such as these, Brexiteers’ defense of individual liberty and self-government has established “a shining city upon the hill” — a beach-head of national independence worthy of emulation. And when Mr. Barnier’s presumption partners the UK itself in this “common responsibility,” it becomes preposterous.
Such responsibility lies at Westminster, not Brussels. MPs, representatives of the people, have been told not once, not twice, but thrice — in the 2016 referendum, the 2017 general election where winning parties pledged to accept that referendum result, and again in 2019 when the “Get Brexit Done” Conservative Party won an 80-seat majority — to cast off EU constraints and strike out for independence.
Prime Minister Boris Johnson, one would think, is the last person who needs to be reminded of these facts. These days, though, it behooves faithful Brexiteers to keep Mr. Johnson’s feet to the fire. By its flickering, let him revisit Viscount Bolingbroke’s Letters on Patriotism.
For while Edmund Burke may have blustered “Who now reads Bolingbroke? Who ever read him through?,” Brexiteers anxious for the future can learn from the statesman whom Thomas Jefferson praised as an “honest man” and “advocate for human liberty.”
Bolingbroke’s entreaties in favor of England’s ancient institutions and against oligarchy equally inspired a youthful Benjamin Disraeli, who deemed him “the ablest writer and the most accomplished orator of his age,” for whom “no one was better qualified to be the Minister of a free and powerful nation.”
True, Bolingbroke may not have unerringly practised the political principles he promoted in polemics against government corruption. Nevertheless, personal foibles do not discredit his patriotic policy. As when Bolingbroke reminds such as Premier Johnson to remember the “distinction between his rights” and those of the British people: Boris “will look on his to be a trust, and theirs a property.”
It may be too much to expect these “farmers of government” — Bolingbroke’s agrarian analogy for state aggrandizement — to heed his lessons. The Conservative government’s record in office is blatant in its disregard for the rights of Britons: whether economic as witnessed by its extravagance; or with respect to the coronavirus, where natural rights to free association are abused.
Let Brexiteers, if none else, rally to Bolingbroke’s banner proclaiming liberty: “If you cease the combat, you give up the cause; and that he, who does not renew, on every occasion, his claim, may forfeit his right.”
Nigel Farage, tribune for independence, remains defiant, but he cannot struggle alone and expect success. The fate of the Brexit cause lies with Britons themselves, pace Mr. Barnier, to whom the Conservative government is ultimately responsible.