Immediately after the shocking result of Britain’s ‘Brexit’ referendum, and the decision to leave the EU, many Britons, particularly those who had supported, or campaigned for, the ‘Remain’ cause were deeply depressed. I myself was one of them; I had contributed to he ‘Remain’ campaign, and was shocked and distraught at Britain’s apparently perverse decision.
However, having had time to consider, and to see the astonishingly childish behaviour both of ‘Remain’ supporters on this side of the English Channel, and of political elites on the other side, I have come to realise that ‘Brexit’ was the right path for Britain to take. A major part of this realisation came when I decided to reconsider the messages of the two camp, ignoring all of the emotive name-calling that bedevilled the campaign itself. It turns out that they demonstrate two radically different visions for Britain and, once this is understood, ‘Brexit’s’ victory is clearly seen as inevitable.
‘Remain’ : a pessimistic view
Even ignoring the infamous ‘project fear’, the ‘remain’ campaign’s message was unremittingly negative. Not on the surface, of course, but what did all of those warnings of inevitable disaster should Britain leave the EU tell us?
- Britain is useless: we, as a nation, have had our day, and we simply cannot survive in the modern world without the support of the continental powers. Despite having the second largest economy in Europe, the largest military, highest rates of innovation, etc, Britain is basically a paper tiger.
- The only future lies with the project: there is a grand plan, run by the masters of the European Commission, and that is the answer. Everything must be planned and follow the rules in as machine-like a way as possible, regardless of what elected governments or populations might think.
- We should obey our betters: we may think that the EU was imbalanced, and that a Union whose President had beggared the Greeks to prove the important of the rules, and then blithely allowed the French government to ignore the same rules because, well, they were French, was stupid. But the wise people of Brussels and elsewhere told us otherwise, and President Obama even flew in to tell us how very, very unimportant we were, and how we must do as told.
Recall that Britons, especially the English (who, after all, voted overwhelmingly for ‘Brexit’) have a strongly anti-authoritarian streak, are naturally pragmatists rather than theorists, and are generally not enamoured of rhetoric.
‘Leave’: muddling through
Now look at the ‘Leave’ campaign’s underlying message, and we see something much more positive:
- Britain is not rubbish, in fact we’re pretty good. So, yes, there may be some problems leaving, but the basic point remained that Britain’s economy is growing faster than most of the continental powers’, the continental EU seems to be sliding towards economic meltdown, and yet the differences in system that make Britain healthier are precisely those differences that are meant to be bad. Saying that Britain can go it alone, and no, allies won’t dump us, is a much more positive thing to say.
- We don’t have a plan, we’ll wait and see. One of the core characteristics of the English psyche is the preference for ‘muddling through’. Not for Britons the grand theoretical frameworks of Descartes; our national philosophy is a proudly empirical Hobbesian pragmatism. So openly saying there is no plan appeals directly to this: Britons have been muddling through for centuries, and probably will be for centuries after the EU has been forgotten.
- Who does that President Obama think he is then? Britons do not like being told what to think. Faced with President Obama’s assurance that a Brexited Britain would be ‘at the back of the queue’ when it came to trade deals, most Britons, naturally, labelled him a liar. Which, it proves, was quite correct, given that within hours of the result being announced, he was asserting that he had not really meant it, and Britain would be at the front of every queue he could think of. Compared with ‘Remain’s cadres of authority figures, ‘Brexit’ had a bunch of bufferish upper-class types who admitted they had no idea what was going to happen, but thought we ought to all pull together, what?
‘All pull together’ is another key English characteristic, along with ‘Muddling Through’ and ‘Mustn’t grumble’. And grumbling, it has to be said, is what the ‘Remain’ team have been doing a bit too much of since the result. This, coupled with the childish behaviour of those EU governments that wish to see Britain ‘punished’ (or, rather, the EU government that does), the astonishing contempt for democracy and even the rule of law demonstrated by the Commission President, and the fact that all those big companies who said they would leave Britain have come back with huge new wodges of cash and apologetic expressions on their faces, does suggest that, when the British people reacted to all those dire threats with ‘you’re having us on’, they were not wrong.
So, I am afraid, it seems that Britons did not vote to leave the EU because we are (collectively) petty-minded racists who live in the past. It was, I would suggest, because we detected the smell of death hanging over the EU, and being proud, unencumbered by theory or reverence for our betters, and willing to take a risk, responded to the campaign that actually allowed us the right to make our own future.