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Will There Always Be an England?

Sitting here in a London Starbucks on the day of the most fateful vote in recent British history, I wonder what Ross Parker and Hughie Charles would make of the controversy over "Brexit." I suspect that the authors of the famous 1939 song "There'll Always Be An England" would be puzzled, not to say alarmed, over the wave of establishment sentiment advocating that Britain remain in the European Union.

"There'll always be an England," these songsters wrote, "and England shall be free/if England means as much to you/as England means to me."

But the question is: Does it? Does England mean as much to the Remainders (as I like to denominate those advocating continued subjugation to Brussels) as to those keen on reasserting British sovereignty? The words "free" and "freedom" are repeated several times in "There'll Always Be An England." That's the theme, the hope, the conviction: that Britain -- even in the dark days when subservience to that earlier form of European Union in the 1930s and 1940s seemed likely -- would triumph because of its native love of freedom.

How do things look now? I don't think I have ever seen Britain more divided. Most of the toffs are firmly among the Remainders.

I was in a posh bookshop yesterday and listened in as the proprietor and a customer assured each other of their fine feelings on the question of Brexit. Those advocating it were angry. They were selfish, too, since the real issue for those advocating Brexit was immigration, and of course only jingoistic throwbacks could dispute the fact that mass immigration was simply a fact of modern life. The customer said that perhaps he should make a large purchase now, since if Brexit happened, the pound would collapse. Yes, agreed the proprietor, it would be an economic catastrophe. Fortunately, they agreed, the winds were blowing in the direction of the Remainders.

Are they? The murder of Jo Cox, a Labor MP, by a deranged 52-year-old psychiatric patient last week sent the polls spinning in the direction of the Remainders. Why? Because the press spun the tragedy as the action of a nativist Brexiteer. The truth is that Thomas Mair, Cox's assailant, had absolutely nothing to do with the campaign for Brexit. It was a cynical exploitation by the establishment to capitalize on a tragedy for their own political benefit.

You saw something similar when the registered Democrat and Islamic extremist Omar Mateen went on a shooting rampage in an Orlando nightclub last week, and was instantly seized upon as an advertisement for "gun control."

Still, I wouldn't be too sure that the Remainders are going to triumph in this referendum. Over the last 48 hours, sentiment seems to be shifting back toward Brexit.

The class division in the debate is fascinating. The establishment, beginning with Prime Minister David Cameron, is firmly, not to say irrationally, in the Remain camp. On his side are the huge corporations, the banks, and all the multinational entities whose lives are barely affected by the morass of intrusive regulation imposed on British business by Brussels. They are large enough to outsource all the compliance requirements, while small or new enterprises stagger under the burden. From the point of view of the establishment, membership in the EU is a good thing if only because it keeps the field clear of rivals.

The Brexiteers are a mixed lot. Their ranks include readers of tabloids like The Daily Mail and The Sun, but also articulate spokesmen for British sovereignty like Boris Johnson, the former mayor of London; Daniel Hannan, a conservative member of the European Parliament; and Michael Gove, the lord chancellor.

In an interview in The Telegraph this morning, Johnson said that the vote was more important than his political career because at stake was the future of Britain as a free and democratic polity:

This is an absolute turning point in the story of our country, because ... if we go on with being enmeshed in the EU it will continue to erode our democracy.

For most of us cis-Atlantic commentators, the whole “European Project” is a murky enterprise. What is it really about? Tearing down artificial trade barriers? Wasn’t that the public rationale for the creation of the euro? Why have the inconvenience of francs and deutschmarks when a single currency would make business much more “rational”? (But what happens, you ask, when you add the lira and drachma into the mix? Was that rational?) Is economic “unity” what the European Union is fundamentally about?

Not really. Everyone knows this, but somehow the other answers seldom surface. Why?