Brexit and the Future of Democracy


Last Monday, in a beautiful House-side room on The Hill in Washington, DC, the American Conservative Union (ACU) held an event to discuss the Brexit referendum, scheduled to be voted on by citizens of the United Kingdom (UK) on June 23rd.

The focus of the event was to examine the consequences of the vote to leave the European Union (EU): what it would mean for the UK to stay in the EU from an economic, domestic, national security, and immigration perspective; and what might happen if they decided to leave, or “brexit”.

The event itself, buoyed by the expertise of heavy-hitting expert panelists, did a fine job of laying out the issues and presenting concerns about what one panelist, Steve Hilton, former aide to British Prime Minister David Cameron and current tech entrepreneur living in California, called “a federated government for Europe”. And the discussion of the practical realities of how a vote to stay may affect national security and trade and immigration and all the rest was informative, revealing, and alarming. However, the implicit — and occasionally explicit — message was buried in the details:

The Brexit vote is, at its core, an ideological one.

The panelists — who along with Hilton were ACU fellow and national security expert KT McFarland, Heritage Foundation’s director of the Margaret Thatcher Center for Freedom Nile Gardiner, and moderator ACU Chairman Matt Schlapp — were all firmly in the Brexit camp. Their reasons were related to concerns about a powerful, unaccountable bureaucracy making decisions for once-sovereign member nations, and how those nations are powerless to push back. In short, the sovereignty of nations is nearly non-existent under the EU meaning, for example, Brussels — EU ground-central — makes decisions about how the economy functions in, say, England. And, on a more immediate note, could determine what the migrant population will look like there, and in Paris, and in every other member nation, into perpetuity.

And, as the panelists noted, this has great consequences for the United States in everything from trade to national security to how this country allies itself with Europe in world affairs.

But Hilton really dug into the meat of what the vote means when he noted that the common market of the EU is actually an attack on the Western political philosophy that is highly skeptical of the notion of “utopia”. The EU, in fact, threatens everything the West has evolved to become as it civilized through the Dark Ages in Europe and the World Wars that threatened to tear her apart. The EU’s form of government  is a version of socialism born of the serfdom that once economically depressed much of England. And citizens there, unless they want to go back in time, should fight like the devil to keep it from being codified and sanctified by a centralized, European government.

A recent crowdfunded video called, appropriately, “Brexit: The Movie”, makes this point brilliantly over and over again in interviews with proponents of the leave faction. It also rather harrowingly details the lack of economic growth in the EU, the unelected bureaucratic “state” of the organization (think Terry Gilliam’s genius film “Brazil” to get an idea of what that looks like), and the fears that sovereign nations will be dragged into conflicts and concerns they would rather avoid but are compelled to join as member nations.

The theme, the underlying heart of the film, however, has to do with the self-determination of free people, and the ability of those people, in democratic nations, to remove bad leadership if that leadership runs afoul.

Dan Hannan – the British MEP who is admittedly “pro-Europe” yet decidedly in the leave camp – is interviewed in the film and, despite his affinity for a cohesive Europe, is clear on the danger of centralized European-wide governance. Tax expert Dan Mitchell outlines Hannan’s 6-point argument for Brexit in a brilliant post on the subject.

As Mitchell notes:

“Dan’s bottom line is very simple.

‘We have created more jobs in the past five years than the other 27 states put together. How much bigger do we have to be, for heaven’s sake, before we can prosper under our own laws?’


Here in America, due to the contentiousness of our current election, is has been suggested that some conservative thinkers – the ones carrying the flame of conservative and classical liberal thought who are weathering an election that threatens to forget those principles altogether — are facing a similar ideological crisis. And so they look to the Brexit vote, not just to discover the economic consequences, or what trade may look like between the UK and the US, or what ingrained socialism looks like at the highest levels of government, but also to determine what people and nations might suffer should they give up their hard-fought and noblest principles.

The US, as it has in crises past, looks to England in hopes they may carry the flame of our shared democratic principles and keep the idea of a free people intact a little longer by voting to leave the EU.