Farage Laughs; Cameron and Obama Frown After Britain’s Populist Triumph
As the evening began on Friday, Nigel Farage was staring at another defeat. His old chums at The City told him that polls conducted on behalf of financial firms showed that Remain would win the night and his dream of seeing the United Kingdom leave the European Union would be shattered.
Then, the results from Sunderland were announced, showing Leave outperforming expectations. It was the first indication that Farage’s gloom was premature — and soon, it became clear that the polls were wrong, yet again, and that the Leave vote would prevail, and not just by a squeaker, either. As dawn broke, a triumphant Farage delivered a rollicking victory speech full of the passion of a man who has been vindicated. Some were critical of his tone, deeming it inappropriate for a deeply divided country that must find a way to come together. But no one could reproach him for it: for over a quarter of a century, Farage toiled in the obscure corners of British politics, enduring indifference –- at first –- followed by ridicule, which then escalated to a sustained media campaign to portray him as a racist, a bigot, and a xenophobe. But without Farage, there would never have been a referendum in the first place. It was his night, and everyone knew it.
Boris Johnson, the former London Mayor and current MP from Uxbridge and South Ruislip, is another winner. He was always thought to be a Europhile, yet he became the face of the Leave campaign. Perhaps Johnson hadn’t changed his stripes, but simply made the raw political calculation that he could ride the populist wave sweeping through Europe all the way to Number 10. Or maybe Johnson realized that at the core of any conservative political thought, the instinct to preserve the people’s right to self-government — embodied in the nation state — must prevail over elitist paternalism and dedication to global institutions. Johnson is now the odds-on favorite to become the next Prime Minister and to face the task of overseeing Britain exiting the EU — a much easier undertaking than it appears to be. The Conservatives will emerge as a unified party now that the EU question, which has been roiling internal conservative politics since the 1990s, has at last been settled. Johnson – or whomever the Tories choose as their next leader – can look forward to leading his party without having to worry about UKIP eating into Tory support as Cameron had to, as well. Now it is Labour’s turn to worry about UKIP’s appeal among the white working class — it is their job to somehow bring together metropolitan, college educated, globalist Labour voters who would never be caught dead with a Union Jack in hand — with patriotic, flag-waving, white van-owning Labour supporters outside the large cities, and it will prove to be a harder task than negotiating Brexit.
The biggest loser of the night, of course, was David Cameron, the man who described Tory activists who wanted an EU referendum as “mad, swivel-eyed loons” just three years ago. Prior to the vote, a letter signed by more than 80 Eurosceptic Tory MPs urging him to stay on as Prime Minister irrespective of the results was a polite gesture but unrealistic. He was the face of the Remain campaign, while Labour leader Jeremy Corbyn was mostly sidelined as the Tory-on-Tory violence took center stage. Cameron resigned only a few hours after the final results were announced, and the “swivel-eyed loons” will now assume the leadership of the the party that once was his.
The other big loser was President Obama, whose heavy handed intervention backfired in a spectacular fashion. After the vote, he was forced to backtrack from his arrogant threat to send the UK to “the back of the queue” when it come to negotiating trade agreements and adopt a very conciliatory tone vowing to preserve the special relationship. But this is only the latest miscalculation from the same administration that infamously called ISIS the “JV team.”
Under Article 50 of the Lisbon Treaty, it can take up to two years for a country to leave the EU after it is invoked. Some have speculated that it may take longer, but they will be proven wrong. It is in everyone’s interest to avoid prolonging the uncertainty triggered by the vote to Leave. The remaining members of the EU wanted to Britain to stay primarily because they feared exit fever spreading around the continent — not because of any love they felt for the British. The UK has been a constant thorn on the side of France and Germany — the Thelma and Louise of Europe — slowing down further European integration. Now that Britain has left the club, Merkel and Hollande can push the gas pedal down and happily drive the EU project off a cliff. A few more laughs may be in store for Farage.