Now that the Withdrawal Agreement Bill, confirming Britain’s exit from the European Union, has cleared its final parliamentary hurdle and received the Royal Assent, the UK will formally leave the EU at 11 p.m. London time (midnight in Brussels) Jan. 31, 2020.
This follows years of division in Parliament and the country, with the liberal elites of London and university towns pitted against the working class, the North of England and the Midlands against the South, and the affluent against the poorer regions. In Scotland and Northern Ireland majorities opposed Brexit. Many seek their own exits from the UK but not the EU.
The Brexit decision process brought to the surface a deep division that reflects education, class, and income, but also transcends them. The general election victory at the end of 2019 for the pro-Leave Conservatives confirmed the rift between those who have a strong sense of belonging in the place where they are, who cherish their country, community, traditions, and customs—the Somewheres (as David Goodhart puts it)—and the Anywheres whose affinity lies more with their professional networks than with their neighbors.
Friendships and families came apart and feelings still run high. Hardcore “Remainers” never accepted the result of the 2016 referendum on national independence from the EU. The divisions and bitterness were deep, no less than in the 2016 U.S. election, where the losing side never accepted the result.
A similar, obsessive hatred of Boris Johnson, the prime minister, is to be heard, in the same words, as manifests itself in the “Trump Derangement Syndrome” that’s so widespread among liberal elites in the United States.
To Celebrate or to Mourn?
“Call no man happy until he is dead,” is advice from Ancient Greece that we do well to take note of—as proud parents celebrating a child’s admission to college that may turn, as in Tom Wolfe’s novel, to a catastrophe of promiscuous sex, drugs, and depression. Or as patriotic citizens cheering our soldiers on to a war to end wars that drags on for years and costs millions of lost and wrecked lives.
Is it time finally to break out the champagne for real? Even on this question, the UK is divided. The Financial Times, for years a hawker of Project Fear, doom-and-gloom hostility to Brexit, but now seemingly reconciled and looking to make the best of it, says no. There’s too much division in the country, between regions, even within families, and among former friends. It’s a time for reconciliation, not gloating.
You don’t celebrate divorce or the breakdown of shared political assumptions and structures—unless you’re as crass as House Speaker Nancy Pelosi, wearing black and looking somber at one moment and handing out golden pens with her signature the next.
In the UK, the country is split on the question of how to commemorate its own Independence Day—with parties and the bonging of Parliament’s Big Ben at Westminster or in somber silence and reflection. Big Ben is under repairs and not available on one account, but is as bongable as it was on New Year’s Eve a month before and, regardless of the cost, should mark this more important, historic event, on another.
On the other side, Andrea Hosso, member of Economists for Free Trade, financial expert, and former trade negotiator, argues in the Telegraph that the debate about the bonging of Big Ben is not about the cost or avoiding triumphalism.
“Big Ben tolling at the moment of Brexit is not about who won or lost but about marking the most important historic event since the war: the country celebrating the solemn moment of taking responsibility for itself and accepting with courage to chart its own course in history. This freedom may entail alliances, agreements and cooperation, but never subordination to a foreign power and the effacement of national identity for an imaginary supranational entity that looks good only in quixotic internationalist fantasies stoked by specific interests.”
Clearly, a family that, alone on its block, supports Brexit will not organize a street party to celebrate. Nor will a family that’s divided or a circle of friends that has broken apart on the issue.
From my perspective, the striking of the hour, the final moments of Britain’s EU membership, at 11 p.m. or midnight or 6 p.m. depending on where you are, marks a historic recovery of national sovereignty and independence for my country.
It reclaims a politics of place, of belonging, of democracy, and of law (English common law) built over centuries from the bottom up, as opposed to empire and transnational, unaccountable rule from above and abroad by mandarins.
It restores the ability of the Crown acting through Parliament once again to make its own laws and regulations, control its own borders, and make its own trade deals.
Of course, the EU will continue to make things as difficult as possible—out of anger, to discourage other members from following the same path, and from fear that the UK will continue to thrive and prosper—a Singapore on the shores of Europe—as the EU declines and fractures.
As for me and my family in Florida—alone on our street, as far as I know, in caring much one way or the other—we will be breaking out the champagne. And given our normal bedtime, I’m happy the hour here will be closer to dusk than to midnight.
Paul Adams is a professor emeritus of social work at the University of Hawaii and was a professor and associate dean of academic affairs at Case Western Reserve University. He is the co-author of “Social Justice Isn’t What You Think It Is” and has written extensively on social welfare policy and professional and virtue ethics.
Views expressed in this article are the opinions of the author and do not necessarily reflect the views of The Epoch Times.