The reaction of most commentators to Britain’s leaving the European Union has been negative; indeed, in some cases savage. Brexit is painted as a retrograde step, taking the U.K. back to its 19th-century era of splendid isolation, and abandoning the Europe it had fought two world wars to safeguard.
But there’s another way of looking at this. The European Union, before Britain’s departure, was an amalgam of 28 states, many of whom had little or nothing in common with each other.
In the western world, you could scarcely find two countries further apart in culture or geography, economic stability or levels of corruption, than Sweden and Cyprus, or Germany and Greece.
Several of the member states weren’t even countries until recently, the Czech Republic, Slovenia and Slovakia among them.
In short, this wasn’t a union of like-minded nations with similar histories and common institutions. It was more a leap of faith with no clear vision, at the outset, of where the end point lay.
Had the aim been merely to get rid of tariff barriers and accelerate trade, that wouldn’t have mattered.
And indeed this is how the EU began, first as the Common Market, and then as the European Economic Community.
But along the way, a central governing apparatus was slowly erected.
A European Parliament was established in Brussels, with the authority to impose regulations across nearly every field of public policy, including health care, immigration and employment laws.
A European Commission was set up to act as its executive body.
The European Court of Justice was empanelled, whose pronouncements take precedence over the judgments of member state courts.
And a common currency was adopted, though Britain wisely abstained.
The thinking behind this ongoing effort to establish a pan-European state was simple. Left to themselves, the various tribes of Europe had made war on each other for as long as history records. If they went on governing their own affairs, it seemed likely nothing would change.
The solution was to begin a slow but inexorable dissolution of national sovereignty, in line with the EU motto, “Ever closer.” Carried to its inevitable conclusion, the result will be that member-state parliaments are reduced to something on the order of a glorified municipality.
Here is the problem. While the EU professes to be a representative democracy, it is nothing of the kind, nor can it be.
With 28 member states (now 27) that have widely disparate interests and aspirations, there is no way a central parliament can give each an effective voice. There are simply too many gaps to bridge. What might appeal to the residents of Portugal might have no relevance in Latvia.
As a result, elections to the European parliament revolve more around platitudes than substance, for this is all the member states can agree on.
The real work of governing is left to the bureaucrats. It is they who rule, not the peoples’ representatives.
Now there is a line of thinking that this is no bad thing. If you’re going to establish such a complex entity, better it be run by professional managers than amateur politicians.
I’m not sure why this belief persists, given the miserable record of countries with centrally managed economies. But in any case, a majority of Brits didn’t buy it.
They felt themselves entirely capable of managing their own affairs. They’d been doing so for several hundred years, with a fair amount of success.
That, in essence, is why Britain is leaving the EU.
It wasn’t about xenophobia, racism or hatred of immigrants. I’m sure such sentiments existed in varying degrees. They do in every country, ours included.
But a far stronger reason stands out. An independent-minded people came to the end of their patience with slow strangulation and took back their freedom.