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I write on January 31, 2020, shortly after 5:00 p.m. in Chicago, which is to say just after 11:00 p.m. in Britain and just after midnight (on February 1st) on the less blessed side of the English Channel.
It was at this hour, just a few minutes ago, that, Brexit — that is, the United Kingdom’s formal withdrawal from the European Union — went into effect. Our British cousins now have an Independence Day of their own.
Independence is quite the right word. The matter is not about trade or immigration or any of a host of sideshows. It is very much about democracy, constitutional government, and the rule of law, and of whether or not the British people are in charge of Britain.
The dream of European union as a path to peace and prosperity is a worthy one. It was not, however, the actual substance of the existing European Union as a reality.
The E.U. achieved neither a continent-wide free trade area, for which a huge bureaucracy and straight-jacketing regulatory schemes were not necessary; nor a democratic political union. Rather, in substance it constituted a massive shift of power from the people of Europe, and of European nations, to a massive bureaucracy, staffed with arrogant technicians resolutely unresponsive to the will of the people. The unelected European Commission became all-powerful; the elected European Parliament is generally an afterthought.
When these realities became apparent, the people of Britain concluded that a Rube Goldberg version of a free trade area was not worth the price of giving up the British legacy of democratic elections, a meaningful parliament, a legal system developed and tested for centuries that was the veritable gold-standard for the world, local control of local affairs, and visible limitations on the power of government that gave individual, family, and community life room in which to flourish.
This British revolution against encroaching continental tyranny gained its drama from the efforts of the cynical elites, again and again, to frustrate and ignore expressions of popular will and to force the British people to surrender — as had other resistant peoples in Europe. The battle was won, not by force of arms but at British ballot boxes, first in the Brexit Referendum of June 23, 2016, and then the convincing and dispositive British Parliamentary election of December 12, 2019.
As Americans we should welcome our British cousins back to the ranks of free peoples; work happily with them to show the world how free trade can be accomplished without overlays of unnecessary bureaucracies, regulations, and taxes; and quietly smile while they savor the peace and freedom that come with overthrowing European overlords who, in the words of our own Declaration of Independence of 1776, “erected a multitude of New Offices, and sent hither swarms of Officers to harrass our people, and eat out their substance”.
God Save the Queen. (Over there, of course.)