The Brexit referendum of June 23 was a momentous event, comparable in long-term implications to the fall of the Berlin Wall a generation ago. It laid bare the yawning gap between the London-based political machine and the alienated and angry majority of “left-behind” citizens. Thanks to outgoing prime minister David Cameron’s miscalculation, the masses seized the opportunity to express their abiding dislike not only of the European Union and all its works but of the postnational, metropolitan elite class that dominates the political process and media discourse in every major Western country. The vote ultimately became a plebiscite on the entire political system. The underfunded Leave campaign presented itself as “the people” battling “the establishment.” It was, in essence, an accurate paradigm.
To put it succinctly, identity has triumphed over economics. Brussels’ encouragement of rampant immigration from the E.U.’s poor eastern members was the key factor, even though the Remainers had tried to keep the issue outside the permissible terms of debate. Britain will now face a profound political and constitutional crisis. The ruling Conservatives will have to elect a new leader in October to replace Cameron, and the party is deeply divided over the candidacy of former London mayor Boris Johnson, who spearheaded the Brexit campaign. The next Tory leader and prime minister—presumably a Euroskeptic—will have to invoke Article 50 of the Lisbon Treaty and thus start the complex two-year process of Britain’s withdrawal from the E.U.
On the opposition side, Labour leader Jeremy Corbyn is unlikely to survive the rebellion within his own ranks; he had supported the Remain campaign, which was decisively rejected by traditional Labour voters. Many MPs now say that he has lost the credibility necessary to lead the party into the next general election, which may come much sooner than expected.
Solidly pro-E.U. Scotland is likely to repeat her independence referendum in the next year or two, almost certainly with a different outcome. First Minister Nicola Sturgeon, leader of the pro-independence Scottish National Party, has begun discussions with Brussels to protect Scotland’s place in the E.U.
In Northern Ireland, which also voted overwhelmingly in favor of staying, the Irish nationalist Sinn Féin’s Martin McGuinness—the province’s deputy first minister—has reopened an old can of worms: He wants a vote on Irish reunification because the “British government has forfeited any mandate to represent the economic or political interests of the people.” This is anathema to the province’s Protestant majority, whose leaders will see any attempt to change Ulster’s status as an attack on a peace process that has worked reasonably well for the past two decades.
The United Kingdom is certain to be transformed by Brexit, with its fragmentation a distinct possibility. The Continent will be transformed, too. The E.U. in its present form, and its founding myth that the process of “European integration” is natural and irreversible, are finished. The reigning leftist orthodoxy on immigration, sovereignty, and trade will be challenged with renewed vigor, primarily in Holland, Denmark, and Sweden (Britain’s trade allies), Hungary, the Czech Republic, Slovakia, and Poland (unified in opposition to immigrant quotas), and the chronically bankrupt Greece. The Eurozone, the inner rampart of the project, will face new pressure. The guardians of the E.U. venture are saying that there will be no chain reaction, but they cannot prevent one. Most importantly, the “New European Person”—multicultural, ultratolerant, genderless—has joined the “New Soviet Man” on the ash heap of history.
The fundamental cause of Brexit was the arrogance of the E.U. elites. As prominent British journalist Ambrose Evans-Pritchard has commented, “It is they who have laid siege to the historic nation-states, and who fatally crossed the line of democratic legitimacy with the Lisbon Treaty. This was bound to come to a head, and now it has.” But the coalition of multicultural fanatics, postnational technocrats, neo-Marxists, and crooks who run the E.U. will be loath to risk another defeat. They will try to prevent any further referenda—they blame Cameron for reckless irresponsibility in departing from their preferred model of guided democracy—but their capacity to control the narrative is gone.
Euroskepticism, with its attendant themes of preventing population replacement and recovering sovereign statehood, has been legitimized. Marine Le Pen, Geert Wilders, Heinz-Christian Strache, and others of similar persuasion have been dealt a powerful hand by British voters. Their ability to alter the terms of the debate on immigration and identity is now greatly enhanced. After Brexit it is conceivable that Euro elites will suffer a loss of credibility and authority comparable to that experienced by the Soviet establishment after the rise of Solidarity in Poland in 1981.