Please see my latest post for The Quarterly Review, ‘Brexit is Britain’s Independence Day’:
Independence Day. That was Boris Johnson’s description of June 23rd last year, as he and fellow Leave campaigners canvassed the United Kingdom for Brexit, making the case to exit the European Union and strike out into the world once more as a sovereign nation. What a year it has been, with much to come before the official break in March 2019. ‘Now this is not the end. It is not even the beginning of the end,’ so Sir Winston Churchill described an early Allied victory in the darkest hours of World War II. ‘But it is, perhaps, the end of the beginning.’
Many trace the origins of Brexit to Bruges in September 1988, when Margaret Thatcher declared that ‘We have not successfully rolled back the frontiers of the state in Britain, only to see them re-imposed at a European level with a European super-state exercising a new dominance from Brussels.’
Yet with what hopes did the European project begin. The horrors of the war never far from its mind, and with the Soviet threat and the spectre of nuclear devastation before it, the Continent took a positive step toward removing barriers to trade and opening up new markets for competition, innovation, and productivity. Thus was born the European Economic Community (‘Common Market’) in 1958. Alas! conceived in the bureaucratic mind-set, the EEC soon trod the familiar statist path, culminating in 1993 when it became known as the European Community, signalling that politics was added to its economic remit. Political integration now became the central thrust, but a proposed constitution stumbled when plebiscites in several member countries failed, and sleight-of-hand was resorted to with the Lisbon Treaty of 2009, a constitution in all but name.
UK Eurosceptics took their lead from Mrs Thatcher, and while the Westminster establishment encouraged an inexorable move toward continental union, opponents mounted a rear-guard action. To quell unrest, prime minister David Cameron offered Tory MPs in the Coalition Government a referendum on Europe in exchange for their support. When a majority of Britons voted for separation, Mr Cameron resigned the premiership and was replaced by Theresa May. Although hitherto a tacit supporter of staying in the EU, she assured the country and her party that ‘Brexit means Brexit.’
And, as I conclude:
Much hard work and uncertainty remain, but the Brexit anniversary is still an occasion to celebrate. As a young, failed electoral candidate, Benjamin Disraeli remained resolute. ‘I am not at all disheartened,’ he vowed. ‘I do not in any way feel like a defeated man. Perhaps it is because I am used to it. I will say of myself like the famous Italian general, who, being asked in his old age why he was always victorious, replied, it was because he had always been beaten in his youth.’ From Margaret Thatcher’s Bruges speech on, Brexiteers have been fighting and have been frustrated for thirty years: they are now battle-tested, and they know that British independence is in sight.
My thanks to editor Dr Leslie Jones of The Quarterly Review.