I was an ardent supporter of Brexit long before the word had ever been coined, before Nigel Farage and the United Kingdom Independence Party (UKIP) were household names. The epiphany came for me about a decade ago. My wife and I were on a bus headed from London to Bournemouth for a convention of the European Agudath Israel. A little over two hours into our journey, and with Bournemouth a scant 45 minutes away, the bus driver pulled into a rest stop and announced that EU rules required a 45-minute rest break at that point. I turned to my wife and wondered aloud how could the traditionally freedom-loving, English-speaking people have surrendered control of their lives to this degree to faceless bureaucrats in Brussels?
Brexit was a vote about two principles that have fallen out of favor with global elites. The first is that of democracy (or more properly republicanism) itself: The idea that the lawmaking authority resides with the people's elected representatives, who may be turned out of office at regular intervals. The EU is the antithesis. Almost all EU rulemaking is done by unelected bureaucrats, not the members of the European parliament, and those bureaucrats are subject to no democratic accountability.
In 2005, when voters in France and Holland rejected the proposed European Treaty, which required unanimous consent, European heads of state went over the voters' heads and signed the Lisbon Treaty. In a similar vein, Jean Claude Juncker, current president of the European Commission, has stated that there can be no democratic choice against treaties.
The second related principle affirmed by British voters is that of national sovereignty – the idea that the laws and regulations governing citizens should be the product of the country of which they are citizens and not of supra-national bodies. Currently about 60% of the laws governing British citizens have their origin in the European Union, not the British parliament. And EU law and judicial rulings enjoy legal supremacy over those of the English parliament and courts. Senator Jeff Sessions, the leading immigration hawk in the Senate, described the Brexit vote as an affirmation of love of country and pride of place over the demands of a distant government in Brussels.
"National leaders should first ensure that they have protected the safety and interests of their own people," Sessions continued. But in order to do that, the national government must retain the power to advance the interests of its citizens. That the British government no longer possesses. As Daniel Hannan, a member of the European parliament (MEP), pointed out in a debate at the Oxford Union, Britain cannot conclude a trade agreement with India, its third largest trading partner, with which it shares a common language of commerce and common law tradition, because all trade agreements must be European-wide.
Reihan Salam argues that EU membership made it impossible for Britain to protect the jobs of British workers. Because of Britain's relatively free labor market – as opposed to that in France – there are many more jobs for semi-skilled and unskilled workers in England than in France and other European countries. That has resulted in flood of immigrants seeking work from Eastern bloc members of the EU – Romania, Croatia, Bulgaria, and Poland.
Under EU rules, Britain has no ability to limit immigration from other EU countries. As a consequence, seventy per cent of new unskilled jobs in recent years have been filled by citizens of other EU countries. To make things worse, EU rules require that Britain extend to all new immigrants the same welfare benefits that it provides its own citizens. Thus immigrants to Britain who are unsuccessful in securing work are immediately entitled, without any previous contributions, to the same welfare benefits and refundable tax credits as out-of-work British citizens. That is an enormous drain on the British Treasury, and has understandably aroused popular anger.
A third reason that I am thrilled by the Brexit vote is the rebuff administered to the arrogant elites, who consistently identify their interests – i.e., those of the financial sector located in the City of London – and their particular obsessions – e.g., global warming – with the general good, while paying scant or no attention, as Joel Kotkin puts it, to the "mundane pleasures of the middle class, such as affordable electricity, cheap air travel, cars, and single-family housing," or deeming those pleasures unworthy.
Daniel Hannan quoted amusingly two of the arch-opponents of Brexit, Lord Rose and Lord Ashdown, warning darkly that if Brexit passed wages would rise and food prices fall, as if these were self-evidently negative consequences.
Margaret Thatcher, a resolute European skeptic, noted early on that European political union was a "classical utopian project, a monument to the vanity of intellectuals, a program whose inevitable destiny is failure: only the scale of the final damage done is in doubt."
The unshakeable progressive delusion is the belief that everything will be so much more rational and nice if only the best and brightest are left to sort matters out among themselves without the intervention of the unlettered, unruly masses.
No amount of evidence to the contrary will do. In 1973, the 28 countries of the EU accounted for 36% of global economic activity. Today that percentage is less than half – 17%. Europe is the only declining bloc in the world, in terms of economic activity.
The 1990 Schengen Convention banning all internal border controls within the EU has left member states unable to control their borders and made the fight against domestic terrorism that much more difficult. The joinder of diverse economies in one common currency – the euro -- has rendered the entire European financial sector extremely vulnerable. The bankruptcy of the small Greek economy was nearly sufficient to bring the whole edifice crashing down. And the much larger Spanish and Italian economies are in precarious shape.
Not exactly a project one would rush to join, Hannen observed archly. Yet rather than acknowledge that the European project has not been a rousing success, just as Lady Thatcher predicted, or even admit fallibility, the European elites reacted to Brexit with their customary good grace and contempt for the opinions of their educational inferiors. Laurie Penny, in the New Statesman, pronounced the Brexit vote to be the product of "parochial, lizard brain of England" voting no to the modern world.
Racism and xenophobia were the two most frequent charges – just ahead of stupidity – hurled at Brexit supporters by their betters. But when one thousand young girls of native English stock are impressed into chattel slavery by gangs of South Asian lads (read Muslims from Pakistan) over a period of twenty years, and the authorities look the other way rather than be accused of the one unforgiveable crime, Islamophobia; when the rate of assaults on Swedish women in Stockholm rises fifteen fold, over a period of time in which 1.5 million Muslims from the Middle East and Somali enter the country, calls for restrictions on immigration are neither racism nor xenophobia but a simple expression of the instinct for self-preservation.
All peoples, writes Franz Rosenzweig, fear the day when another people speaking a different language and observing different laws, will inhabit that land that they love. But they are not required to hasten that day and deny all bonds of kinship, history, and language. My mechutenster tells me that on the bus from Golders Green to the nearby Brent Cross shopping mall, it has been a long while since she has seen an English-speaking couple pushing a baby carriage, and that the language of conversation is more likely to be Polish, Hungarian or Croat than English. A melting pot of peoples is all very well until the amount of foreign elements is so great as to prevent emulsion.
The Brexit vote was not just a repudiation of distant bureaucrats in Brussels but of legislators closer to home, who have grown distant from their constituents and their concerns. Almost every Labor MP supported remaining in the EU. Yet in 75 out of the 115 local councils held by the Labor Party, the vote was for Brexit. It sort of reminds one of the Democratic Party in America, which once claimed to be the party of the working man, but whose concerns today with global warming and identity politics, rather than jobs, reflect those of the educated gentry class.
Supporters of Brexit voted in the face of a campaign dubbed "Project Fear," consisting of a parade of economic horribles that would afflict the country if it withdrew from the EU. Not all of these are implausible, and some may come to pass. The proof, however, does not lie in the vast sums Goldman Sachs, JP Morgan, and the largest international banks threw into the anti-Brexit campaign. As Daniel Hannen observed, the multinationals, as opposed to small entrepreneurs, are madly in love with the EU regulatory burden because they can afford compliance costs, which, in fact, constitute a massive barrier to entry by competitors (just as Dodd-Frank in the United States benefitted the largest banks at the expense of local banks, and has thereby reduced the capital available to small entrepreneurs.)
That Britain voted as it did in the face of the economic disaster threatened to lie just over the horizon only makes the Brexit vote that much more inspiring. One might hope that all those who share the disdain of democracy and national sovereignty of the European elites – e.g., President Obama, who prefers to rule by executive decree; the supreme courts in Israel and the United States that seek to be the final arbiters of all national values and to remove issues, such as the definition of marriage, from the political process – will take a lesson from the Brexit vote. But on past evidence, there is little likelihood of the warning shot across the bow of global elites being heeded.