A cartoon on the front page of The Telegraph this morning sums up the stunned mood in London. “Good evening,” a newsreader says. “Aliens didn’t land on earth and Elvis wasn’t found alive, but everything else happened.” The triumph of Brexit sent shock waves through the edifice of polite opinion. As several commentators noted, it was a Pauline Kael moment: no one who was anyone knew anyone who had voted for Brexit and yet, just as Pauline Kael (apocryphally) was flabbergasted at the victory of Richard Nixon because she knew no one who had voted for him, so all the best sort of people woke yesterday to the impossible news that the angry, unwashed, lumpen folk who live in the wrong postal districts had won! How could it be?
The reaction on the street ripened from near catatonic incredulity to spluttering anger. Like Denmark after the death of the elder Hamlet, all polite society, on the continent and in America as well as in Britain, was contracted in one brow of woe. Yet by the end of the day reality began to reassert itself. The markets had a bad day, and doubtless will have a few more, but the pound, after plunging to a 30-year low, rebounded. David Cameron, who had hitched his wagon to the shooting star of the Remainders, gave what was perhaps the best speech of his career, ending with the announcement of his resignation. But the real news, tomorrow’s bulletin, came from Boris Johnson who, along with Michael Gove, Dan Hannan, and Nigel Farage, was the public face of Brexit. In a speech that was at once mollifying and candid, Boris noted the obvious.
“We cannot turn our backs on Europe,” he said in a speech yesterday. “We are part of Europe. Our children and grandchildren will continue to have a wonderful future as Europeans, traveling to the continent, understanding the language and culture that make up our common European civilization.”
“Our common European civilization.” It is one of the ironies of the spirit of the European Union that it has turned its back on the essentials of that civilization, beginning with its hostility to the Christian roots of that civilization and proceeding on to its attack on the essentially European values of democracy and individual liberty. Reflecting on the referendum, Boris pointed out that voters decided that it was time “to take back control from a European Union that has become too remote, too opaque and not accountable to the people it is meant to serve.” This is the fundamental message of Thursday’s referendum.
The Remainders wail that the vote was an ignorant rejection of Europe. In fact, it was an assertion of essential European values that the EU, in its sclerotic embrace of bureaucratic totalitarianism, had rejected in fact if not in name. Back in 1775, the Revolutionaries in New England spoke of a shot that was heard around the world. The beneficent populism of the Brexit referendum is likely to be a similarly effective tocsin. Its echoes will reverberate throughout Europe and even in the United States as more and more people rouse themselves from the dogmatic slumbers of their masters. Brussels represents the undemocratic, unaccountable force of elitist, regulatory despotism. On Thursday, the British people decisively rejected that imposition. It’s only a matter of time before that spirit of liberty starts showing itself elsewhere.