In June of 2016, the United Kingdom’s citizens, as well as Irish and Commonwealth citizens living in the United Kingdom, voted to exit the European Union, by the slim margin of 51.9% to 48.1%. This decision, and the process of deciding how to exit the EU that followed, is just the latest in a series of events proving that Great Britain is, while connected to Europe geographically, vastly disparate to Europe: Politically, Culturally and Philosophically. The United Kingdom voting to exit the European Union is not, and should be viewed as, a decision made by ill-informed voters; the decision was the result of decades, if not centuries, of British Euro-skepticism, due to a profound difference in political philosophy, a pent-up frustration with the establishment, a feeling of British influence being diluted, and a chasm between Europe’s and the United Kingdom’s national identity. Brexit was, if anything, a call for national liberation – from the cast-iron constraints of Europe and the bureaucratic tyranny of the European Union.
The political systems of Europe and Great Britain, while founded on the same principles (Greek democracy and Roman representative government), have evolved into very different entities. Britain’s politics, while not to the extent of the United States of America, functions on and is renewed by personality, at times at the expense of policy. This has been evident for centuries; from Prime Ministers William Pitt the Younger and Benjamin D’Israeli, to 21st Century politicians like Boris Johnson and Nigel Farage. While policy is still very important, evidenced by the political parties still publishing a manifesto in election cycles, it is very difficult to deny the impact spectacle has on British politics. The 2016 Brexit referendum was a clash of personalities, not policies, and Nigel Farage was simply more captivating and charismatic than David Cameron or Jeremy Corbyn.
Contrastingly, the European style of politics is much less populist, though there has been a trend towards right-wing European populism over the last 20 years, evidenced by Italy’s Five Star Movement. The European Union, however, is the poster child of bureaucracy. This is at least in part due to the fact that European Union heads (President of the European Commission/ European Council/ European Parliament) are not directly elected, rather they are chosen by the MEPs or leaders of the European council. Therefore, the three politicians filling these roles do not need to appeal to the general European public, instead needing to lobby votes within the EU’s political chambers – making charisma secondary to agreeability.
Britain also has a different vision of what the government should be, and how much influence it should have on the population’s everyday lives. Britain has a soft-capitalist approach to government size and influence, which is capitalist in regard to individual liberty, but closer to socialism in regard to taxes, education and health care. While it is a incorrect to call Europe fully socialist, like Nicolas Maduro’s regime in Venezuela, it is clear that Europe has built a political system that is between centre-left and far-left, depending on the country in question, with many nationalised companies having private parallels in this country, like the overground rail service compared to France’s SNCF. In the United States, the people are critical of the State; in Europe, the people are critical of the private sector; in Britain, the people are critical of both, but strike a balance between the two.
The most early example of the divide between Britain and Europe is language. English is a unique language, in that it is comprised of many other languages in an unlikely combination, due to England’s storied history. Much of the English language is from French and Latin, when William the Conqueror ascended to the English throne in 1066. The language spoken in England before 1066 was a combination of the languages of the Angles, Saxons and Jutes, influenced by Germanic languages (Old Norse, Dutch) as well, is known as old English and is not easily understood today. However, while English is a product of many European languages, it’s usage today is much more internationally spread. Countries with English as their native language, of which there are eighteen, are almost always ones which the British Empire controlled or had influence in. Therefore, Great Britain does not feel solely tied to Europe, as their influence had historically reached much further.
For a small island nation, Great Britain’s national identity and culture is remarkably strong and distinct. Great Britain is built on tradition and history, as well as a strong sense of British Exceptionalism. This is not surprising, considering the fact that Britain’s was the last real empire (except for the USSR’s control of eastern Europe), and was one of the most successful. Therefore, it is understandable that many in Britain are sceptical of the European Union, afraid of the whitewashing of British Culture and the removal of Britain’s independence to make important decisions regarding trade, immigration, climate change or whatever important issue arises next.
While the European Union started out as an important force in unifying Europe after the Second World War, it has now quietly chipped away at individual nation’s sovereignty, and with that goes individual nation’s culture. Since the signing of the Maastricht treaty in 1992, which founded the European Union as it as today, British culture has been dwindling slowly, equal parts due to Americanisation and increased connections to Europe. British culture and British national identity is truly unique, a blend of strong traditions, like the Monarchy, and competitiveness left over from the Empire, showcased every four years at the FIFA world cup, and is too distinct to warrant this change.
Geographically, Great Britain is not attached to mainland Europe; it’s an island. Great Britain does benefit from being close to mainland Europe in some ways, such as a temperate climate and easy trade due to access to seas, coasts, and oceans. However, Britain’s island mentality is inescapable, and for centuries, Britain lived in isolationism, protected by the Navy and the Empire. Nowadays, the Empire is all but gone, and the navy works in accordance with Europe. The facts have changed, but Great Britain’s attitude has not. Britain is still, in spirit, an isolationist nation, and while we have become increasingly willing to help nations that need it (and rightfully so), any attempt to diminish our independence in favour of continental parliament will not be sustainable – Britain’s attitude simply cannot and should not change.
Great Britain has a history unlike any other nation in the world. A small, geographically insignificant land mass, Great Britain is one of the largest economies in the world. There is no question that Great Britain has similarities to Europe: in language, in Geography and to a point, in politics. However, Great Britain has never really fit in with Europe. Our view of how the government should operate is vastly different, and a future where Britain is governed by a leader we do not elect, in a country that is not our own, in a political system that does not align with ours, was unsustainable from the start.
The British people decided to leave the European Union not because they are racist or scared of change, but because they take pride in their powerful history and national identity, and do not want to see their ability to make decisions for themselves diminished. The clear and unavoidable differences between Europe and Great Britain show that Britain was never part of Europe at all, and after Brexit, never will be.