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HomeCharles KrauthammerBrexit: Sovereign Kingdom or little England?

Brexit: Sovereign Kingdom or little England?

Charles Krauthammer

WASHINGTON — Given their arrogance, pomposity and habitual absurdities, it is hard not to feel a certain satisfaction with the comeuppance that Brexit has delivered to the unaccountable European Union bureaucrats in Brussels.

Nonetheless, we would do well to refrain from smug condescension. Unity is not easy. What began in 1951 as a six-member European Coal and Steel Community was grounded in a larger conception of a united Europe born from the ashes of World War II. Seven decades into the postwar era, Britain wants out and the EU is facing an existential crisis.

Yet where were we Americans seven decades into our great experiment in continental confederation, our “more perfect union” contracted under the Constitution of 1787? At Fort Sumter.

The failure of our federal idea gave us civil war and 600,000 dead. Brexit has killed no one (so far). Moreover, Europe never had our advantage of a common language, common heritage and common memory of heroic revolutionary struggle against a common (British) foe. The European project tries to forge the union of dozens of disparate peoples, ethnicities, languages and cultures, amid the searing memories of the two most destructive wars in history fought among and against each other.

The result is the EU, a great idea badly executed. The founding motive was obvious and noble: to reconcile the combatants of World War II, most especially France and Germany, and create conditions that would ensure there could be no repetition. Onto that was appended the more utopian vision of a continental superstate that would once and for all transcend parochial nationalism.

That vision blew up with Brexit on June 23. But we mustn’t underestimate the significance, and improbability, of the project’s more narrow, but still singular, achievement — peace. It has given Europe the most extended period of internal tranquility since the Roman Empire. (In conjunction, of course, with NATO, which provided Europe with its American umbrella against external threat.)

Not only is there no armed conflict among European states. The very idea is inconceivable. (Fighting between the various nations has been subcontracted to soccer hooligans.) This on a continent where war had been the norm for a millennium.

Give the EU its due. Despite its comical faux-national paraphernalia of flag, anthem and useless parliament, it has championed and advanced a transnational idea that has helped curb the nationalist excesses that culminated in two world wars.

Advanced not quite enough, however. Certainly not enough to support its disdainful, often dismissive, treatment of residual nationalisms and their democratic expressions. Despite numerous objections by referendum and parliament, which it routinely either ignored or circumvented, the EU continued its relentless drive for more centralization, more regulation and thus more power for its unelected self.

Such high-handed overriding of popular sentiment could go on only so long. Until June 23, 2016, to be precise.

To be sure, popular sentiment was rather narrowly divided. The most prominent disparity in the British vote was generational. The young, having grown up in the new Europe, are more comfortable with its cosmopolitanism and have come to expect open borders, open commerce and open movement of people. They voted overwhelmingly — by 3 to 1 — to Remain. Leave was mainly the position of an older generation no longer willing to tolerate European assaults on British autonomy and sovereignty.

Understandably so. Here is Britain, inventor of the liberal idea and home to the mother of parliaments, being instructed by a bunch of pastry-eating Brussels bureaucrats on everything from the proper size of pomegranates to the human rights of terrorists.

Widely mentioned, and resented, was the immigration directive to admit other EU citizens near automatically. But what pushed the Leave side over the top was less policy than primacy. Who runs Britain? Amazingly, about half of the laws and regulations that govern British life today come not from Westminster but from Brussels.

Brexit was an assertion of national sovereignty and an attempt, in one fell swoop, to recover it.

There is much to admire in that impulse. But at what cost? Among its casualties may be not just the European project (other exit referendums are already being proposed) but possibly the United Kingdom itself. The Scots are already talking about another vote for independence. And Northern Ireland, which voted to remain in the EU, might well seek to unite with the Republic.

Talk about a great idea executed badly. In seeking a newly sovereign United Kingdom, the Brits might well find themselves having produced a little England.

© 2016, Washington Post Writers Group

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Charles Krauthammer
Charles Krauthammer writes a weekly political column that runs on Fridays. He is also a Fox News commentator and appears nightly on “Special Report with Bret Baier.”
  • FloridaJim

    With The Clinton’s secret meeting with the DOJ, whom Bill put in judgeship in 1999 we need BRIXIT at once. we have lost our way and are about to be strangled by ISIS, Democrats never learned,just like Blacks have been for 55 years, 5 generations

  • richardcancemi

    The failure of the EU can be attributed to Socialism and the dictatorial attitude and controls that it brings with it. It might have been more successful had it based itself on our Constitution which united our States under a free Republic. Today America is cachectic because of the Progressive Socialism that has been infesting and controlling our Country for decades. The Progressive movement is not an end unto itself. It is a means to an End, namely, the establishment of a One World Governance. The world is sick because of Marxist ideation, with its illogical principles, taking hold. In reading and listening to Dr. Krauthammer lately, I am wondering if he has been drinking the KoolAid of the Establishment which seems content to allow the ship of Progressivism sail merrily to the destruction of world freedom.

    • Exactly! Well written!………EU=Organized Socialism Plain and Simple in so far as Chuck Krauthammer I too agree, George Will, and a lot of others have lost the true meaning of sovernty of the US that made us great as a fundamental foundation on which a nation was built and thrived. we must go back to the fundamentals Read the Federalist Papers AND the constitution to understand what I am talking about

      • maxx

        I must agree with you. George Will’s recent tantrum and Krauthammers continued slide to the left because he fails to recognize America is not compatible with soft socialism or any socialism for that matter, has turned him into a MSM puppet. He lost his way years ago but continues to think he is relevant. Both of these guys should retire before they damage what respect they may have had years ago.

        • Jerry G

          Charles Krauthammer sometimes called Sauerkraut hasn’t slid to the left. He never left the left. He’s had a hard time not showing his true colors but now it’s obvious that he’s a liberal trying to act conservative. And failing.

    • Out In Right Field

      Well said, Richard! How are this Krautheimer person’s writings allowed to appear on a site called “Freedom’s Back”? From this article I can’t tell whether he thinks Britain should be FREE to manage its own affairs or he thinks they should have let Brussels keep calling the shots just because WW III hasn’t broken out.

  • gwh731

    I don’t understand Mr. Krauthammer’s need to try and rationalize the indefensible EU. Instead of pointing out that the EU was foisted upon Europe (nobody voted for it) by a bunch of ruling-class elitists as a stepping stone to a world socialist order, Krauthammer wastes precious heartbeats opining about how the EU is misunderstood and really was a noble idea after all… REALLY? I propose just the opposite. If / when the EU implodes, it will not be because people did not understand its true purpose, rather that people did finally realize it for what it is –a bad idea meant to serve the super-rich and ruling elites, not the people.

  • regulus30

    Margret Thatcher knew it was ignorant to do twenty [20] years ago;; illuminati/bilderburgs first attempt at ONE WORLD COMMUNISM.

    • maxx

      I would have to believe Mrs. Thatcher is turning cartwheels in Heaven over Brexit.

  • carlosperdue

    Better little England than no England.

    For that matter the EU means no Britain anyway.

    Globalist neo”con” RINO Krauthammer is really reaching when he credits the EU with the recent peace since WWII.

  • TheBitterClinger1

    As the man said, referendum and popular vote meant nothing, the EU is most certainly Plato’s Republic – a tyranny of an elite. The European Peace was bought at too high a price.

  • parthenon1

    Europe as a whole needs to be reawakened once again and reminded their best and most generous friend is the US. We backed and for the most part supplied the Allies during the war in addition to supplying many people to help fight the war then we rebuilt friend and enemy alike after the war, ( Lend-Lease during the war, Marshall plan after the war), and now who gets the most vitriol from these nations . . . the US of course. only Britain is still a strong friend and for the most part doesnt try to preach to us as the rest does. A side note the only nation destroyed and not rebuilt after being defeated in war was the Confederacy, in fact today some of those states arent fully recovered to the same level as the neighboring states since these states were the most penalized by having anything of value stolen by the successful troops and nothing replaced.

  • Dale g

    The paragraph near the end of the article pretty much says it all. The older Brits have had enough of the direction from the EU headquarters in Brussels and voted to take it back. The young don’t like it. I heard one teenager claim, “I was hoping to go to school in Romania but now, because the old folks have to have their comfort, I won’t get to go.
    Aw, shucks! Spoiled, selfish little brat! Just like here, the young kids want it all for free; don’t realize that eventually, someone has to pay! and pay!

  • Bob

    When world governments (the EU, UN, NATO, etc) start TELLING you that you must accept TERRORISTS into your country, it is PAST TIME to get out of the “new world order”!!
    I hope that Great Britain will become GREAT once again!
    And I hope that America, that is, the “good old U.S.A” will GET out of the UN and NATO and become GREAT once again!
    God Bless Great Britain and America.
    and, hopefully God will Bless America with a Great President in Donald Trump.
    Pray for Donald!! it is imperative that he be PROTECTED!
    there are many in “world power” who don’t want the USA to become like we once were!!!!!!!

  • Thomistmuse

    Better a “little England” than a or “Great Alienation of Self-Government” which is (in terms of the citizenry and the common good, by its nature a “Great Failure”. Matter of principle.

  • WBC

    This piece appeared to be a bit discombobulated to me. It was hard to track.

  • Tim Kern

    Nice of you to drop a crumb to NATO.

  • DanInOsprey

    I had a house in downtown Washington, D.C., nine blocks from the White House, for 17 years. Fortunately I escaped D.C. before the water, air, company, or whatever, addled my mind. Charlie and George (Will) should have been so lucky. The EU “a good idea?” Right – ask Maggie Thatcher about that brilliant construct. Increasingly I’ve had it with Krauthammer, Will, and a number of other FoxNews pundits because either (1) they have become so full of themselves (Kelly, O’Reilly, Shep, even Greta), or (2) they have succumbed to the Potomac virus that addles the minds of Conservatives in town better than the Zika virus shrinks unborn babies’ heads and brains, or (3) the air and water are too heavy in brain-destroying toxic material such as “liberal lead” (viz: the Roman Empire). Tuning them out . . .

  • ICorps

    Krauthammer claims that the EU “has given Europe the most extended period of internal tranquility since the Roman Empire.” Apparently he doesn’t consider Bosnia, Serbia, Kosovo, and Chechnya as part of Europe. He also ignores the EU’s open door to thousands and thousands of Muslim “refugees,” which has led to anything but “internal tranquillity.”

    “Nationalism” has four definitions, 1) devotion to one’s nation, 2) national interests more important than international considerations, 3) desire for national independence, and 4) excessive(?) patriotism.

    How did “nationalist excesses [culminate] in two world wars”?

    The young may have voted overwhelmingly for Britain to remain in the EU, but not because of “having grown up in the new Europe,” but rather, judging from America’s young, because they are shallow and totally lack an understanding of the real world–apparently as does Krauthammer.