The British voters have decided to withdraw from their
formal relationship with the European Union (EU) by a
larger margin than was expected by most pollsters,
pundits and those who placed bets with London bookies,
With a robust turnout, especially in England, voters chose
to “leave” the EU rather than “remain” (in the language
of the British referendum ballot).
Scotland (by a large margin) and Northern Ireland (by a
narrow margin) voted for Remain. England (by a sizable
margin) and Wales (by a narrow margin) voted for Leave.
The final overall margin was 3.8% favoring Leave.
It was not an overtly party line vote, inasmuch as leaders
of the ruling Conservative (Tory) Party, opposition Labour
Party and the party in coalition with the Tories, the Liberal
Party, all supported Remain. Only the nationalist UKIP
Party was uniformly for Leave, and the Scottish National
Party was uniformly for Remain.
The real division in the referendum outside of Scotland
was between rural and small town voters --- and big city
voters. Although Conservative Prime Minister David
Cameron led the effort for Remain, Conservative M.P.
(and former London mayor) Boris Johnson led those who
were for Leave.
At stake in the vote was the UK’s membership in the EU.
It had joined in 1973, although it opted out of the rest of
the member nations’ adoption of a single currency, the
In spite of threats and warnings from the leaders of other
EU nations that a British exit would have dire consequences
for the island nation, it is likely that the huge British economy
and its enormous trade with its continental neighbors will be
stabilized over the next two years.
The short-term effect, of course, is likely to be a negative
over-reaction in the price of the pound and of British stocks,
but cooler heads will likely soon prevail as British currency
and markets stabilize. The UK is the second largest economy
There will now be calls throughout the remaining EU member
states for more referenda. The EU has recently been previously
destabilized by economic conditions in several of its smaller
member states. Only Germany, which has the largest economy
in Europe, and which dominates the EU, has avoided some of
these problems, although the controversial issue of immigration
to that nation has created problems for its government, as it has
for most other EU member states.
Immigration was only one of the issues which inflamed the
British EU referendum. Also upsetting to many UK voters was
the increasing power of the EU bureaucracy and parliament
(in Brussels) which dictated unpopular rules and regulations for
British farmers and small businesses. English sovereignty, almost
a thousand years old, moreover, was threatened by EU intentions
for political unification.
In a critical way, British identity itself was threatened. Although
the island nation was no longer the dominant world sea power
and colonial power it was a century earlier, a majority of its
people felt that the nation which had contributed so much to
world law, representative democracy and global culture, should
not, and could not, be erased by bureaucratic fiat.
The British monarch, Queen Elizabeth II, and the entire royal
family, remained carefully neutral throughout the campaign, as
is the custom in this constitutional monarchy, but few missed the
meaning of a private dinner conversation, leaked to the press,
during which the queen was reported to have pointedly asked her
guests to name “three good reasons why the UK should remain
in the EU.”
Great Britain’s withdrawal from the EU also provides it with
several positive economic and strategic new possibilities,
including potentially strengthening its ties with North America
and Asia. While “Brexit” was clearly a rejection of the
European status quo, it could be an early moment in a global
reorganizing, something already in the international wind as
China and India take their places as major players in the world
economic and political order.
Signs of voter mutiny have already appeared at various levels
in the Western democracies. Nationalist parties on both the
left and right have done well in Spain, France, Netherlands,
Italy, Austria, Belgium, Greece, and elsewhere. Just days ago,
the first woman mayor of Rome in 2800 years was elected
representing a reform-minded protest party that is likely to
become significant in Italian national politics. European
secession movements are widespread. Even if the British had
voted to remain in the EU, it is not at all clear that, as a
political entity, the EU could have survived much longer,
especially with the challenges of mass migration to the
continent, and the chronic problems of some of its member
This current anti-establishment phenomenon has even spread
this year to the United States where an extraordinary
presidential campaign is taking place with mutinies in both
parties that have upended long-standing political rules and
The election of Mayor Virginia Raggi in Rome, the Brexit
vote in the UK, and the nomination of Donald Trump to be the
Republican nominee for president are neither accidental nor
They are eruptions from grass roots voters asking for change
and transformation. That does not mean they are necessarily
the right thing or the best thing, but whatever they are, they
cannot be ignored.
Copyright (c) 2016 by Barry Casselman. All rights reserved.