Many knowledgeable experts, academics, journalists, and others, have commented about the causes and consequences of the British vote to leave the European Union. As in my previous essay on the subject, I confess that I am merely someone oddly wearing his amateur economist and his amateur historian hat, one on top of the other. Possessing only these hats rather than expert knowledge has not stopped me from expressing my opinions before, and it does not today.
While each expert generally comments upon the causes or effects in his or her area of expertise, I have been gratified to see that some mentioned what I said was the overarching reason for the decades long project of European integration and union: the reduction in the centuries of nationalist and racist or ethnic, conflicts that have blighted Europe’s, and Western civilization’s, history and even its claim to be civilized. During the twentieth century, Europe visited upon itself, and upon the entire world, two of the worst catastrophes in all of human history. These calamities destroyed a hundred million people: tens of millions of combatants, tens of millions of civilians including millions of victims of outright genocide.
Massive human calamities such as this have complex causes, and historians are still arguing. But the powerful forces of nationalism and ethnic and racial hatred are at the top of everyone’s lists. In my earlier essay, I said that far sighted politicians, statesmen, began the European project after World War II in an attempt to defang nationalistic, ethnic, and racial hatred by breaking down economic and social barriers between the nations of Europe. Although the UK was not among the six original nations of the European Coal and Steel Community, since World War II they have been both major beneficiaries of the Union project and (sometimes) reluctant leaders of that project. Now they have turned their backs on it.
Indeed, one blogger I read pointed out that of the 70% of the eligible voters who voted, 52% voted for Brexit. Thus 36% of British voters have rejected the European project, and their views will set the UK and the European Union on its new course.
Here are a few of the other bloggers who have remarked in support of my views as to the significance of this vote.
Here is the last paragraph of a powerful essay by the distinguished British journalist, Martin Wolff, writing in the Financial Times:
Yet economics are just a part of what matters. The UK’s decision to join the EU was taken for sound reasons. Its decision to leave was not. It is a choice to turn its back on the great effort to heal Europe’s historical divisions. This is, for me, among the saddest of hours.
Here are the first two paragraphs in moving and powerful essay by Felix Salmon, another distinguished British economic journalist;
I’m sitting here looking at my burgundy-red British passport, with EUROPEAN UNION emblazoned in gold letters across the top. I’ve fastened the shirt I’m wearing with cufflinks which have the UK flag on one side, and the German flag on the other—my proud European heritage. I’m thinking about everything I loved about growing up in London: the food, the culture, the fact that in one teeming, vibrant city you could find the entire world. I’m thinking about the single happiest moment that I ever saw my (German) mother, when I ran into the kitchen and told her to come, watch the TV, the Berlin Wall was coming down, the unthinkable was happening. Europe was really, truly, coming together.
And I’m grieving. Because that world—the world of hope, the world of ever-closer union among countries which for centuries would kill each other by the million—came to a shattering end on Thursday.
Here’s another item on this issue that has caught my attention. The Scottish voted 62% to 38% to stay in the EU. Just two years ago, the Scottish held a referendum on whether to leave the United Kingdom (of England and Scotland). The vote was 55% to stay and 45% to leave, but that was to stay with a United Kingdom that was a part of the European Union. Already the Scottish government is talking about opening discussions with the Europeans to remain with them, and discussing holding another referendum on whether to leave a United Kingdom that is not a part of the European Union.
Here’s the story of how Scotland and England (and Wales and Ireland) came to be the United Kingdom, a story of dynastic politics in a time when inheritance established the legitimacy of a government, from Wikipedia:
In August 1503 James IV, King of Scots, married Margaret Tudor, the eldest daughter of Henry VII of England. Almost 100 years later, when Elizabeth I was in the last decade of her reign, it was clear to all that James VI of Scotland, the great-grandson of James IV and Margaret Tudor, was the only generally acceptable heir to the English throne. From 1601, Elizabeth I’s chief minister Sir Robert Cecil, maintained a secret correspondence with James in order to prepare in advance for a smooth succession. Elizabeth died on 24 March 1603, and James was proclaimed king in London later the same day. Despite sharing a monarchy, Scotland and England continued as separate countries with separate parliaments for over one hundred more years.
Of course, there is more to it than this, but this was typical of the transition of governments in those days. Who married whom, and the sex of their progeny, and which children survived. Indeed, it was typical of the transition of religion too. As each English King or Queen took the throne, his or her religious preferences became the official state religion to which adherence was expected of all subjects. The truth might suddenly switch! One day you’d owe allegiance to King and Pope, the next to your personal relationship to God as understood through your reading and study of the Bible. A few years later, because Elizabeth’s older brother died before his father, and she survived, Bloody Mary’s killing of Protestants switched to the great Queen’s killing of Catholics, if any were stubborn enough to hold to their truths.
It appears that the Brexit vote may lead to a split up of the four centuries of united monarchy. I wonder about the treatment of the Scots by the more numerous English that would have led the Scots to seek their fortunes connected to Europe than the English.
There is a similar situation with Northern Ireland. That BBC link has the data that shows the voters of Northern Ireland voted 55% to 45% to stay in the EU. Perhaps they will open negotiations with their larger partners sharing the island with them, the Republic of Ireland. Perhaps Northern Ireland would leave the United Kingdom and negotiate a federation with the Republic of Ireland, which is a member of the EU.
Thus, the decision of English voters to leave the European Union may mean an end to the United Kingdom. Well, except for Wales, which the English conquered in the 13th century. I don’t know if the Welsh have significant memories of ancient independence.
London voted 60% to 40% to stay.
Look at this, also from the BBC data:
The youngest voters supported staying 3 to 1, while the oldest voters supported leaving 3 to 2! One writer I saw commenting about this described it this way, the fewer years voters had to live with the consequences of a Brexit, the more they supported it. (I can’t find that to link to, at the moment.) Young British adults felt more in common with other young people in France, Italy, and Germany than their elders did for their foreign cohorts.
Finally, we have Donald Trump’s comments on the Brexit vote, which are entirely about him.
“I think it’s a great thing that happened,” Trump told reporters on Friday. “People are angry, all over the world. People, they’re angry.” The presumptive Republican nominee is visiting Scotland for the official opening of Trump Turnberry, his new golf course, and he suggested the United Kingdom’s break from the European Union may be a boon to his business. “When the pound goes down, more people are coming to Turnberry, frankly,” he said during a press conference. “For traveling and for other things, I think it very well could turn out to be a positive.”