One source of comic relief this morning is watching American conservatives take a Brexit victory lap. They feel and sometimes say explicitly that leaving the EU is Britain ticket to reemerging as a great power. As I noted below, it’s far more likely that Brexit is Britain’s ticket to reemerging as England. But that’s another matter.
The UK is still a semi-great power, as great powers go these days. They’re rich, have a seat on the UN Security Council, a nuclear arsenal and a world class military, albeit a very small one (compared to the old days.) But the UK ceased to be a great power because it lost its imperial holdings not because it joined the EC/EU (forgive me, ‘duh’ gods for stating the obvious.) Indeed, Winston Churchill, who these same conservatives believe will be raised from the dead by Brexit, was actually a consummate Europeanist and never got along well with the reactionary, Blimpish Tories who are the ancestors of today’s Brexit supporters.
In any case, the EU isn’t preventing the UK from being a great power. After losing its empire, and after a rather lengthy and painful period of adjustment, the EU gave the highly educated and technologically advanced UK and its financial sector a new lease on life as a neo-liberal conduit into the vast European market.
Why Britons voted for Brexit is a complex matter, not settled by adverse stereotypes. But why American conservatives support Brexit turns out to be highly tuned to adverse stereotypes. It is the same turn back to the clock to glory nonsense that animates Trumpism in the US. To that end, note that the biggest cleavage in the vote wasn’t nationality or regionalism; it was age.
HOW AGES VOTED
18-24: 75% Remain
25-49: 56% Remain
50-64: 44% Remain
65+: 39% Remain#EUref
— Ben Riley-Smith (@benrileysmith) June 23, 2016
Young Britons voted overwhelmingly to remain. Even the 25-49 demographic was a solid if small “Remain” victory. It’s only in people over 50 and particularly with people over 65 who really voted to leave.
The EU is in many ways a US project, part of the United States’ post-war effort to unite Europe (i.e., stop its recurrent tendency to trigger wars that destroyed the world) and remodel the most powerful and economically productive (at that time) part of the world around US values. American conservative glee is just a retreat to the tribalism at the core its nature, a rejection of one of America’s great accomplishments of the 20th century.