The rebellion is real.
The New York Times reports that Britain has voted to leave the European Union by a 52 to 48 margin. The significance of the event can hardly be overstated. The biggest political project of the post-Cold War world, involving an economy collectively as large as the United States, has suddenly been thrown into reverse.
All of a sudden, the invincible status quo looks very mortal. The BBC’s Katty Kay understood a Brexit win would signify everything had changed. If Brexit could win, then Trump could win. If Trump could win, the world was upside-down. The unthinkable was no longer impossible.
The big losers — apart from the European project itself — were conventional wisdom, which predicted a comfortable win for the Remain faction all the way until the roof fell in and President Obama appeared. He made a special trip across the Atlantic to lobby British voters to stay in the EU. He was apparently less than convincing.
Nor did the thinly veiled warnings of operatives like Strobe Talbott, who hinted darkly at the end of the British-American special relationship in the event of Brexit, cut much ice. If today’s events prove anything, besides Talbott’s fallibility, it is that Brussels, not London, is the capital of a dying empire. Voters in France, Italy, and the Netherlands are demanding their own votes on European Union membership and the euro, as the continent faces a “contagion” of referendums.
If the unthinkable was no longer impossible, the inevitable was no longer foreordained.
The big winners of the night are Nigel Farage, and of course, Britain. Somewhere deep down in its bones it recalled the virtue of sheer obstinacy, the power of No at a time when persistence, courage, and defiance were declared to be politically incorrect and out of fashion. It was as if they reconstructed for themselves the speech a British politician once gave a class of Harrovian schoolboys, back in the days when the glory of persisting against seemingly hopeless odds could be extolled without embarrassment:
Never give in, never give in, never, never, never-in nothing, great or small, large or petty — never give in except to convictions of honour and good sense. Never yield to force; never yield to the apparently overwhelming might of the enemy. We stood all alone a year ago, and to many countries it seemed that our account was closed, we were finished. All this tradition of ours, our songs, our School history, this part of the history of this country, were gone and finished and liquidated.
You sang here a verse of a School Song: you sang that extra verse written in my honor, which I was very greatly complimented by and which you have repeated today. But there is one word in it I want to alter – I wanted to do so last year, but I did not venture to. It is the line: “Not less we praise in darker days.”
Do not let us speak of darker days: let us speak rather of sterner days. These are not dark days; these are great days — the greatest days our country has ever lived; and we must all thank God that we have been allowed, each of us according to our stations, to play a part in making these days memorable in the history of our race.
They had worked it out for themselves. For the second time in 80 years, that little Island has bought the world a space in which others could rediscover their own hardihood. And rediscover it doubtless they will, as the New World did of old.
Today the Brexit rebellion showed that daring could prevail against bullying, truth could win against prestige, plain speech could trump celebrity, and long odds were vincible provided you never, never gave in.
We live, as Winston Churchill told those schoolboys at Harrow, not in dark days, but in great days.
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