Britain voted to leave the European Union in a referendum on Thursday
Britain voted to leave the European Union in a referendum on Thursday. The decision prompted British Prime Minister David Cameron to announce his intention to resign and sent share prices tumbling. The decision is historic, but how do people in the UK feel? CNN asked a group of commentators, politicians and historians in the UK for their personal take on what it all means. The views expressed are their own.
Stanley: I’m deliriously happy
I am deliriously happy about Britain voting to Leave. It’s being pitched as many things: a vote against immigration, elitism or globalization. But at its heart it was about democracy. The EU had undermined our sovereignty and threatened to drag us into a federal superstate. Britain wanted no more of it.
Given that we were threatened with economic Armageddon if we voted to Leave – by the President of the USA no less – it’s particularly thrilling that so many people chose risk and freedom over the promise of stability. In New Hampshire they say: “live free or die.” Perhaps we’ve brought the American revolution home.
Timothy Stanley is a historian and columnist for Britain’s Daily Telegraph.
Woolf: Our sense of self is depleted
My parents went through World War II and felt positive about the postwar moves toward European unity: they hoped their children would not have to face what they had faced. On Thursday, I voted Remain – for the sake of our young people, who need unity now more than at any time since the 1930s, as nationalist tendencies arise throughout Europe.
Brexit makes me despair: lies and scaremongering combined with economic and political half-truths have led to this. Our economy and our position on the world stage are both now in tatters. But more fundamentally, our sense of self is depleted, and the opportunities available to the younger generation are fractured. Young and old, we are in shock.
Sheila Woolf is a Warwickshire-based historian and author and former school teacher.
Singh: A political earthquake
Two days after the Brexit vote and it is still difficult to come to terms with the magnitude of the political earthquake that has hit Britain. In retrospect, it will rank in the same league as 1066, the English civil war, American independence, and India’s decolonization.
Britain has turned against history and into itself, which might presage the breakup of the country. As Enoch Powell, the veteran anti-EU campaigner, said almost 43 years ago: “Independence, the freedom of a self-governing nation, is in my estimation the highest political good, for which any disadvantage, if need be, and any sacrifice are a cheap price.” The real question is whether the politicians and the voters who have sleepwalked into a Brexit are willing to pay this price.
Prof. Gurharpal Singh is Dean of Arts and Humanities at the School of Oriental and African Studies, University of London.
Smith: Demagoguery triumphs over reason
The result of the EU referendum is a disaster for the UK in so many ways – economically, socially, culturally, and in terms of what it signifies for Britain’s relationship with the world. We’ve turned from being an outward-facing, sharing, partnering country to being isolated and insular. And worse than that, we’ve demonstrated that demagoguery can triumph over reason and common sense. I fervently hope the same thing won’t happen in America in November.
Lord Chris Smith of Finsbury is a member of Britain’s House of Lords and a former secretary of state for culture and media under a Labour government.
Cook: Time to roll up our sleeves
I knew something was up when I was woken up by my phone buzzing – friends busily swapping news and gossip as the vote count got under way. I had to get up and watch – it’s not every day you see the direction of the country change. And change it certainly has.
I think it’s a brave choice – a hopeful leap into the unknown and definitely the harder path to take. But maybe that’s the British way.
We can celebrate, we can complain, we can worry – and then we roll our sleeves up and make this work. It’s what we do.
Simon Cook is the leader of Canterbury City Council.
Arora: Political participation the winner
The result of the EU Referendum has left the UK pondering the UK-EU relationship, but also the fate of the relationship between England, Scotland, Wales and Northern Ireland. The result has determined our future beyond our borders, but also within our borders.
Ultimately, whether people agree or disagree with the outcome, I feel that the result has restored my view on public participation in politics. For so many years, analysts and scholars alike have sought to explain the apparent voter apathy. The unprecedented levels of voter turnout for the EU Referendum has blown the voter apathy myth right out of the water and proven that people will engage in politics that they feel affects them. Seventy-five percent of 18-24 year-olds voted to remain in the EU, according to polling. They may feel devastated by this outcome, but they are the very people who will be amongst the next generation of leaders that can shape our relationship with the EU and beyond.
Bela Arora is a senior lecturer in Global Governance at the University of South Wales/Prifysgol De Cymru.
Jones: History won’t judge us kindly
The pollsters got it wrong. The bookies got it wrong. And if you believe my liberal friends wailing on social media (make that about 95% of them) the electorate got it wrong too, and will rue the day, etc etc. But here we are. Democracy has prevailed.
Placed in historical context, Brexit feels like a horrible lurch into the dark for Great Britain, a nation which in the past century has been the last defender of European peace and stability, not the first to run away. No more. Having grown weary of our neighbors, we have set fire to the garden fence. If the whole street burns down, so be it.
In my view, the (real and legitimate) grievances that fed a vote for Brexit cannot possibly be solved by its achievement. Beneath this decision lies only a bitter combination of two bogus sentiments: nostalgia and utopianism. We want the old days, or a brave new world. What we will probably get is more of now, only worse. History will judge Britain for what we have done to Europe, but I fear it will not judge us kindly.
Dan Jones is a historian and journalist.
Maltby: Keep an eye on Northern Ireland
When the Germans or French defend the EU, they talk of Pax Europaea, the gentility with which once unstable borders or divided nations seem peaceably supervised in a local league of nations. In most of Britain, where border disputes are beyond living memory and the EU stands for bureaucratic corruption, this has never resonated as a justification for the existence of the European Commission. No one’s granny in the English Midlands grew up worrying about the next-door county’s militia taking back Alsace-Lorraine.
But there is one place where that complacency seems misplaced in the wake of the Brexit vote. More so than Scotland – which has hit more headlines this week, but has no recent history of military-grade violence – I think the future of Northern Ireland should concern Americans.
On both sides of the border, local rivalries have been slowly, though not completely, subsumed into a greater appreciation of European identity. Amongst Northern Ireland’s young, even those born to Unionist families, the EU has meant opportunities to travel, work, and adventure. The Republic of Ireland will be staying in the EU, and has already seen a spike in passport applications from Northern Ireland, even from traditionally anti-Republican areas. Given that some of these applicants’ fathers killed or died to remain British, that may mean trouble.
Kate Maltby is a theater critic for The Times of London and regular broadcaster and columnist in the United Kingdom on issues of culture and politics.
Walker: Triumph of past over future
The Brexit vote has been a victory of the past over the future; of the old over the young; of the less educated over the university graduates; of the less skilled over the nimble who could adapt to the post-industrial age; of The Sun and Daily Mail over the FT and The Guardian; of the nativists over the cosmopolitans; of little England over Great Britain.
Its roots lie in the Great Recession that began in 2008 as much as in the Great Migration that took Britain’s foreign-born population from 3.8 million in 1993 to 8.3 million today. Its consequences will be grim, certainly for Britain, probably for Europe and very possibly for that humane, rational and democratic entity we called the West.
A sad, historic day.
Martin Walker is veteran British journalist for The Guardian and UPI who writes the multimillion selling ‘Bruno’ mystery novels.