Now that David Cameron has kept his word and allowed UK citizens to vote on whether they wish to remain a member of the European Union, he is looking for a new job, the financial markets took a dive and numerous analysts believe the UK has sealed its fate as a once powerful nation. All this is in response to the 52-48 vote to exit the EU that many thought would not happen. Citizens shocked the world with their decision to put national interests over collective politics, and now reports act as if the UK will be plunged into the dark ages.
The debate over whether to stay or go is complicated. The EU is a myriad of rules and regulations set up in theory to provide peace and prosperity to a continent that spent a good deal of the last century in war. In reality its system of government—which puts collective good over individual state autonomy—can be so complicated even those who work in it on a regular basis are at times confused. There are certainly pros and cons on both sides; for as many issues as people have with the EU the ability to easily travel, work and engage in commerce across a continent half the size of the US is quite appealing. However, the citizens of the UK (the ones most directly affected by the decisions and policies of the EU) have decided that the tradeoffs they have been making now outweigh the benefits.
The most interesting thing about this is not the decision itself, but the response.
This is a nation that has produced the longest reigning monarchy, the largest colonial empire, the strongest navy (~1800-1900), Shakespeare, Stonehenge, Lloyds of London, not to mention Churchill, Thatcher, the Beatles, Harry Potter and David Beckham. It’s difficult to believe that a nation of this caliber will, by exiting the EU, shrivel up and die. For starters, the UK has always maintained its own currency, the Sterling Pound, meaning that will not be negotiating any currency issues. Second, they are not the only nation to decide not to be members of the European Union; Iceland, Norway and Switzerland are not members. Third, their exit (which will be determined via negotiations) does not mean they will not be involved in European matters. It’s highly unlikely that the nation will now revert inward and completely ignore the rest of the continent. In many of the multinational peacekeeping and trade organizations that exist, nonmember nations are invited and participate in events in order to gain greater perspectives. It is highly probable that the UK will now take an independent leadership role on the world stage—as it did for thousands of years before the creation of the European Union.
There is an important lesson here for everyone. As caring human beings it is a natural instinct to be concerned about others. We form family units, deep bonds of friendships, connections with coworkers; it’s only natural that in governing and policy the idea of ‘the collective whole’ would be considered. There are certainly times and issues where the benefit of the whole is greater than the individual, but it’s a fine line and one that must be carefully monitored. In the US the belief in individual liberty and state autonomy are cornerstone principles of governing. Yesterday, the citizens of the UK expressed their opinion that in their country those issues are also paramount and need to be put at the forefront of their governing. It does not mean, and should not be insinuated, that because one believes in putting their national interest over global interest that they are somehow racist or ethnocentric. In life and in governing you have priorities, they change over time, but they are always there and you always have to choose which things to prioritize.