In many ways, Britain’s national history began when it left the Roman Empire. Throughout its many centuries, Britons have defined themselves as freedom-loving, independent people, very often resisting larger multi-national organizations or top-heavy systems of government. To choose just a few examples, King Alfred led his countrymen out of an encroaching Viking nation, Henry VIII removed his country from an increasingly tyrannical Roman Catholic Empire, William Wilberforce extracted Britain from the global slave trade, and Winston Churchill rallied his people to repel the ever-increasing Third Reich and then to beat it back from the lands it had swallowed up.
Despite this rich tapestry of freedom, I was a little surprised to watch as Britain voted itself out of the European Union yesterday. I’d seen so much fear and panic in the media, and so many English celebrities moping about how much costlier their vacations would be if the tiny UK left the utopic pantheon of European powers, that I wasn’t really sure if modern Britons would follow their ancestral heritage. Fortunately, they did… just barely.
As we watched the results being reported last night, the financial markets went wild. When it became apparent that little old Britain was probably going to paddle off alone into the Atlantic after all, the Pound dropped like a rock as investors swapped them out for safer currencies, like American Dollars, Yen, or gold. But despite deep pessimism about the UK’s future without the all-powerful EU, nobody was buying up Euros.
This is because the EU needs the UK more than the UK needs the EU. Membership in the EU has made it very easy for certain kinds of companies to do business: specifically large companies who can afford to hire fat Belgian lobbyists to entertain EU lawmakers in the style to which they are accustomed. And this membership has come at great cost to the UK’s taxpayers: approximately £10 billion in cash per year. EU advocates are quick to point out that most of this money comes back as benefits, but that’s only around £4 billion per year. This is like saying that I should go buy a Lamborghini Aventador, because the cash-back discount will pay for the Vauxhall Insignia that I actually want.
Which is not to say that leaving the European Union will be easy. Saving at least £5 billion net on membership dues will be nice, but EU membership did supersede all British trade agreements in Europe. The UK will need to develop new agreements so that British companies can go on working in Europe, and new passport and immigration rules to manage all the EU citizens that are living in Britain now. It’s going to be a terrible headache to sort everything out.
But the good news is that it is now a local headache, and it can be worked out. Britons can once again choose their own masters, hold them accountable, and make their own laws. Internet killjoys are pointing out how difficult this will be, and of course it will be difficult! It’s always difficult to bear increased personal responsibility. It was more difficult for the barons to live under that terms of the Magna Carta than to unthinkingly obey King John. It was more difficult to have freedom of religion than to simply follow the edicts of a foreign Pope. Everything that Britain or anyone has ever done in the defense of freedom has been difficult.
And, of course, it may not be done terribly well. Now that UK has freed itself from the secret decisions of anonymous unelected bureaucrats in Brussels, I’m sure that it can find plenty of anonymous unelected bureaucrats in Whitehall who are eager to assume control. But perhaps the 52% of Britons who were tired of the implacable, opaque, unrepresentative rule of the invisible experts of the EU will be tired of it at home, too. At least they now have the basic ability to choose accountability and transparency if they wish.
In either case, this sets an excellent example of decentralization. Such positive examples are rare in the last century, and I think most of us have come to think that political bands, once tied, are unbreakable. That all nations are indivisible. But almost exactly 240 years ago, our forefathers found it necessary to dissolve the political bands that connected them to the British Empire. Leaving was difficult, being independent was difficult, and in the years that followed not all of our attempts at self-government were handled terribly well.
And yet, it inspired many other men of many other nations to pursue the separate and equal stations that God has entitled them to. To pursue freedom. This year, when we celebrate our Independence Day and thank God for our founders and the example that they have been to others, lets also be thankful for the new opportunity that Britain has (to use or misuse), and the example that they will be to others.
And for more information about some of Britain’s rich history of seeking freedom, take a look at this video that my father put together for our friends in the UK.