The polls came in early on Friday, and a shockwave was sent through all of Europe: the United Kingdom has voted to leave the European Union. This vote came after a night of close calls, during which Nigel Farage, the leader of the UK Independent Party, thought they very well might lose. But as the hours ticked away, the votes for Leave proved to be overwhelming. 51.9% of British voters voted for Leave, with 48.1% voting to Stay. The vote margin was considerable, with Leave winning by 1,269,501 votes. So the question is…what now?
Journalist Jonathan Freedland has bemoaned how, “This is not the country it was yesterday. That place has gone forever.” One might mistake such a sentiment for a conservative one, but the chattering classes are capable of bemoaning a change in the arrangements they favor. Historian Robert Conquest has written, “Everyone is conservative about what he knows best.” And the many classes which rely upon the EU or which enjoy elite status partially because of the EU are now frightened and angry.
This shocking vote by the British electorate is the latest, and perhaps the most successful, of the rejections of the EU by voters. More than once have the citizens of European nations rejected the ideas of the political masters. In 2005 both the French and the Dutch rejected the EU Constitution. But this is the first time that a nation, which is part of the EU, has decided to leave it.
The political horizon has shifted. From a Europe of “ever closer unity,” the ephemeral and tyrannical goal of the EU, to a Europe in which we may see more and more nations choose to follow the example of Great Britain. Geert Wilder’s, the Dutch parliamentarian, has told Reuters, “”I congratulate the British people for beating the political elite in both London and Brussels and I think we can do the same. We should have a referendum about a ‘Nexit’ as soon as possible.” As if this were not bad enough for the EU, Marine Le Pen, head of France’s National Party is hoping for a Frexit. The Czech are also hoping to do the same.
Amidst strange portmaneux runs a common thread: that the people of the nations of Europe are rejecting the Union which has been partially forced upon them. While the EU’s origins were honorable enough, what it has become is something which cannot exist for long: a democracy without a people, without a demos, upon which to base its claims. The highhanded way in which the EU was formed and is being run makes it possible that many people will reject the EU leadership, and fight for their own interests.
The European Union has suffered a blow, and we await its’ response. It is possible that the ruling members of the Union will seek some way to chastise a recalcitrant Britain, in the hopes of frightening the rest of the nations of Europe into docility once more. But this bell cannot be un-rung, whether it rings for a bright future or a bitter one remains to be seen.