Brexit: The revolt against the establishment

Like many who campaigned to leave the European Union, I wasn’t expecting victory. Neither were the pollsters, the pundits, media commentators, and Nigel Farage. I’ve never been happier to be proven wrong.

Against all predictions, against all odds, Great Britain is leaving the EU and rejoining the world.

The British public have always had an uneasy relationship with the European Project. That was true even when they voted to stay in the Common Market.

In 1975, most people accepted the pragmatic argument for EEC membership that Britain’s ailing economy needed a shot in the arm. But the British never fully embraced the European ideal and have always been downright hostile to the notion of a single European government.

The EU was designed to be the foundation of a united Europe. The brainchild of the enigmatic French diplomat Jean Monnet, it’s whole purpose was to bind the nations of Western Europe into a single economic and political unit.

Europe’s establishment – it’s political class, bankers, big business and fashionable intellectuals – have always been keener on this idea than the hoi polloi.

What has changed since 1975 is not the nature of the EU but it’s steady progress towards an end goal that only a privileged elite ever wanted. Eurocrats actively seeks to thwart democratic decisions when they go against le grand projet.

When France and the Netherlands rejected the proposed Constitution, the referendum results were quietly ignored. When the Irish rejected the Lisbon Treaty they were told they didn’t understand the question and asked to vote again.

When the democratically elected Italian and Greek governments rejected Eurozone bailout deals they were swiftly toppled and replaced with more compliant regimes.

The EU has grown alarmingly in this time. From its humble origins as a Common Market, it become a leviathan with legal supremacy over the laws of its member states. The EU has it’s own social policy, foreign affairs representatives, police force, flag and anthem. It is now a federal state in all but name.

Meanwhile, patriotic working class voters in Britain’s former industrial heartlands have felt increasingly betrayed as the elites embraced anti-democratic multiculturalism and supranational government. Mass immigration has completely transformed the neighbourhoods where they used to live, and put the schools and hospitals they rely on under back-breaking strain. If they dare to complain they are labelled as “bigots”.

This has accompanied a complete change in the nature of British euroscepticism. Once upon a time it was the left who feared the European ‘capitalist club’ and it’s contempt for national democracy. Now they embrace open borders, sneer at the St George’s Cross, and seek to “rub the right’s nose in diversity”.

So committed to the European project was New Labour under Tony Blair that he tried to sign Britain up to the Single Currency – now devastating the economies of southern Europe – and would have got away with it if Gordon Brown had not insisted on imposing his ‘five tests’.

At the same time the Conservative grassroots have become increasingly wary of the European project. The fall of Margaret Thatcher galvanised eurosceptic Tories. The ERM debacle confirmed their worst fears about the ultimate loyalties of their new leaders. John Major’s bitter war against the “bastards” in his own party exposed a growing rift between the Conservative hierarchy and the party base.

It was this febrile atmosphere that gave birth to UKIP. Few political movements have grown so fast and achieved so much. Former Tories and old Labour voters flocked to Nigel Farage’s party because the political class wasn’t listening. Many in the Leave camp are still wary of Farage, but the awkward fact is there would have been no referendum without him.

David Cameron called this referendum to appease his own party and stave off the threat of UKIP. He lost it because the masses do not and never have believed that handing over our government to a foreign power was in their interests or the nation’s.

When campaigning started, the Leave camp appeared fragmented and messy. But they had a coherent message, shaped by decades of opposition to the European Project from across the political divide: Take back control of our democracy and our borders.

The Remain camp, by contrast was split. Were they pro-immigration or anti-immigration? For preserving national sovereignty within the EU, or abolishing it entirely? They didn’t seem sure. All too often Remainers fell back on Project Fear: a scorched earth strategy that insisted in increasingly shrill tones that only ruin awaited Britain outside the warm embrace of Brussels.

Leave won because they were right. The EU has become increasingly over-mighty, concerning itself more with regulating toasters and vacuum cleaners than the messy concerns of the people living under its rule. Last week’s result was the revolt of the forgotten, the dispossessed and the despised.

It turns out we were always the majority. We just didn’t realise it.


Chris believes strongly in individual freedom, personal responsibility, and the power of free markets to eliminate poverty by encouraging wealth creation. Follow him on Twitter: @cjmanby1989

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The views expressed in this article are that of the author and do not necessarily reflect the views of Conservatives for Liberty