- The Washington Times - Thursday, June 30, 2016


Much has been written since the British voted to leave the European Union in part because so many believed that nation’s voters would do as their establishment “betters” advised them without realizing that they were in fact ready to revolt against just such advice from people who believe they know best how others should live their lives.

What upset many about the vote was the fact that it was allowed to take place at all. Enlightened European leaders, like their “progressive” allies in this country tend to view democracy and its processes as barely tolerable in that they give people who don’t get it a say in their own lives. The European Union may have begun with the best of intentions, but has morphed into a technocrat’s dream with tentacles into virtually every aspect of the lives of those living in member nations and a unhealthy hostility to democratic input. Whether those who gathered after World War II to create a European continental market actually envisioned their ultimate creation as supplanting the ability of sovereign nations to act as such has been debated for years, but intentional or not that has what the EU has done and the backlash has begun.

The leaders of the EU never expected British voters to actually vote to leave the EU. Indeed, British Prime Minister David Cameron called the referendum after the 2013 elections to give British voters the opportunity to defeat and thus marginalize his country’s Euroskeptics. That he didn’t fear the outcome when he agreed to the referendum says a lot about his and the European establishment’s lack of understanding of what was going on around them.

Britain joined what was then the European Economic Community in 1973 long before it was renamed the European Union in 1993 with aspirations that transcended creating a common market and began working toward the minimization of economic, political and even cultural differences among the member nations. In the years since, the EU has created a huge bureaucracy of technocrats based in Brussels who micromanage business and other decisions within as well as between the members and view any attempt to oversee their efforts as an essentially hostile act.

Much attention in the United States and Britain was focused on Brussels’ mandate on the extent to which the curvature of bananas marketed within the EU would be allowed as a real world example of the needless bureaucratic involvement of EU officials in matters that should have been none of their business. Predictably, large international concerns within Britain that could absorb the costs of complying with the mass of regulations pumped out by the EU bureaucracy and use them to keep smaller competitors and entrepreneurial start-ups at bay opposed a British exit from the EU, but reports that their voices were representative were overblown.

In a letter to London’s Daily Telegraph, more than 300 British industry leaders argued that the EU bureaucracy was killing British private sector competitiveness. “Brussels’ red tape stifles every one of Britain’s 5.4 million businesses, even though only a small minority actually trade with the EU,” they wrote, adding: “It’s time to vote ‘Leave’ and take back control.”

Armchair analysts in this country have suggested since the vote that British voters were reacting to EU immigration policies or that older British voters voted to exit because they were unwilling or unable to adjust to a changing world or that like every explanation for the contrariness of voters here, because they are racists. The problem with these explanations is that they don’t come close to explaining what happened.

It was rather the slogan of the “Leave Campaign” that seems to have caught the essence of why British voters decided they wanted out and why there is pressure in other member nations to do the same. The slogan was “Vote Leave: Take Back Control.” Many observers, in fact, believe it was when that slogan, developed by Leave campaign director Dominic Cummings and his partner Mathew Elliott to replace the initial Obama-like slogan adopted by the campaign (Vote Leave: Get Change) that turned what was assumed at the time to be a losing effort into a surprise winner that attracted British voters from all sections of the country and from the ranks of both the Labor and Conservative Parties. Those three words resonated with voters and immunized them against warnings that there would be economic consequences if they voted to leave the EU.

The British are an independent and bull-headed lot. They voted as they did because they don’t like being threatened be it by EU politicians, international business leaders or even a U.S. president who ships his consultants over to help achieve the outcome he wants while warning British voters that if they don’t do the right thing, he will send them and their country to “the back of the queue” in their dealings with the United States.

Those who wanted their country to remain within the EU argued that voters would be richer if they stayed while those who wanted out were arguing that freedom, sovereignty and the ability to determine their own destiny are more important than a few pounds in their pocket.

• David A. Keene is Opinion editor at The Washington Times.

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