On Thursday, British voters chose the uncertainty of independence over the certainty of bureaucratic morass, the vigor of self-reliance over the sluggishness of dependency, and risk of prosperity over the security of stagnation when they decided to leave the European Union. The “Brexit” victory offers Britain, Europe and the global economy a chance to redefine the global landscape, realistically assess whether governments and politics are working, and set the stage for a renewed economic dynamism.
We find ourselves in a moment of global uncertainty and anxiety. Terrorism has made bloody inroads to the West, with attacks in Paris, Madrid, London and the United States leaving scores dead, survivors scarred for life, and many living in fear. The rise of refugees fleeing from war-torn, unstable countries in the Middle East (especially those that harbor terrorist networks) to western nations fuels rising (and in some cases, justified) fears of increased attacks against civilians and civil society.
Increasing globalization of trade, immigration and international cooperation generated both a rise in abundance and widening imbalances, which contributed to the rise of income inequality and rising long-term unemployment. The majority of Britons found that the answer was not blindly increasing cooperation and engagement (with the attendant bureaucratic obstructionism) but allowing people to decide for themselves what kind of future they want, and empowering them to make it happen. Faced with the risks of terrorism, unending swarms of increasingly violent and lawless refugees, and deepening economic malaise on the continent, Britain realized it could not solve its own problems while burdened with the worsening quandary faced by the EU.
Brexit could actually start a trend leading to a stronger, safer Europe. A Europe of sovereign nations would certainly tackle the refugee crisis and terrorism much more effectively than the EU has, as each individual nation is forced to rationally assess its security network, and make the needed changes. As currently configured, the EU has proven to be woefully inadequate to the task; both logistically and ideologically. This also has the added benefit of allowing a newly independent Britain to once again take the lead role of NATO, giving that organization a renewed sense of purpose – the defense of Europe.
The solution then, is a renewal of politics and a foreign policy that uphold the potency and importance of national identity in the face of global competition. Western politicians and leaders must understand and accept that engaging with the world and finding areas of cooperation and mutual interest need not be reasons to surrender the concepts of independence and sovereignty, or the unique history and identity of any nation. Allowing citizens – in nations on both sides of the Atlantic – to determine their own futures, their own identities, their own best interest is not “xenophobia”, “going alone” or “isolationism,” but a revitalized appreciation of the unique histories that shaped and still guide civilization.
With the vote to leave the European Union, Britain has taken the first step in blazing a trail that will doubtless be followed by people in Europe and around the world. Their bravery, courage and audacity are to be commended and should be an inspiration for all.