Brexit: Identity, Sovereignty, and the Resurgence of the Nation State

Quite some time ago—February, in fact—James Delingpole of the UK Spectator penned an article in which he explained that his support for Brexit lost him more friends than even being pro-Trump. Whilst this statement was at first rather perplexing, some recent experiences have perhaps lent it some credence. Whilst I cannot say that my support for the leave campaign nor my general ill will towards the European Union has lost me any friends, it has led me to some rather interesting encounters.

I have admittedly heard some ignorant comments escape the mouths of so-called progressives.

“The people who voted for Brexit aren’t educated”, “They don’t have degrees.”

There have been shouts criticising democracy itself — “Less direct democracy is a good thing,” because, after all, “uneducated people are misled into voting for silly things like Brexit.”

There is, of course, nothing surprising about young progressives and socialists already displaying their characteristic self-absorption. Elitism, however, is not something one would normally attribute to members of a political cross-section that outwardly loathes such pompousness. Whether we shall describe them as Champagne Socialists, the Caviar Gauche, or, as the Germans do, Salonkommunists, is completely a matter of personal taste.

Those voters yet to accept the result of the referendum—and who continue to demand another vote—are strangers to the concept of the nation state. The nation state, as defined by the Oxford Dictionary, is a “sovereign state of which most of the citizens or subjects are united also by factors which define a nation, such as language or common descent.”


Their arguments revolve around a false sense of loss, or robbery, of their right to move freely across borders, to live and work within the borders of another nation. There has historically never existed such a right to free movement, nor a right to live and work indefinitely in another nation. Such a matter has always fallen upon the government to decide.

In view of the Brexit deadline—little over a year away—it is worth reaffirming what the leave vote stands for, sovereignty and identity.

Regardless of its argumentative manifestation, the issue of national sovereignty has been perhaps the most important argument in favour of the United Kingdom’s vote to leave the European Union. At the heart of national sovereignty lies the issue of jurisdiction, which is, in itself, defined by borders. In order to understand the seriousness of the issue, consideration of the vision of the EU is imperative.

Europe, as envisaged by the faceless bureaucrats in Brussels, is to undergo a process of federalisation that will see the European Union transformed from a confederation of sovereign states to a federation.

Such a process is already well and truly underway, itself evident in the numerous institutions of the EU, including the Parliament, Commission, and Court of Justice. What this process of federation continues to involve is the incremental concession of sovereignty to the bureaucratic leviathan that is the European Union.

The threat posed to democracy by the European Union is already evident. Often argued is the point that there exists a European Parliament, which, on the face of it, would imply some degree of democratic process in the form of input by Members of European Parliament elected to represent the citizens of their respective home nations.

The European Parliament, however, possesses no power of legislative initiative; this is to say that it cannot propose laws. Rather, ultimate power lies in the European Commission, an unelected body of faceless bureaucrats that cannot be removed.

From a classical liberal perspective, the European Union is an absurdity for a number of reasons. Perhaps the most obvious of these reasons is its imposition of further layers of government, which hinders growth and reduces competitiveness. This anti-democratic institution has burdened the United Kingdom with vast amounts of legislation.

The European Union has threatened to erode the sovereignty of Parliament. The signing of the Treaty of Accession, for example, added nearly 3,000 regulations and over 400 directives to English law. In doing so, the European Union undermines the sovereignty of the people and their ability to rule and govern themselves in accordance with their own values and preferences. This is notwithstanding that the objective of federation necessarily entails concession of those areas that constitute national sovereignty — defence, justice, finance, and foreign policy.

It is worth briefly considering the ‘vanguard myth.’ In the words of Sir Roger Scruton, this can be described as the legitimate use of power by those intellectuals and experts whose knowledge is capable of leading the people to salvation. In this case, salvation involves a lethal concoction of globalisation, mass immigration, and multiculturalism — the negative consequences of which will never be felt by the members of this vanguard, who do not live in those English towns and boroughs that have become ghettos of segregation.

Indeed, identity appears to be the issue that managed to clinch the leave result in the referendum. For those leave voters, economics was a mere secondary consideration, unsatisfied by David Cameron’s attempts to reduce everything to numbers.

European multiculturalism has, by and large, failed. Tolerance has been extended to the intolerant. We have seen the reintroduction of what are effectively blasphemy laws, evidenced, for example, by the prosecution of Geert Wilders in the Netherlands. Perhaps most frustrating has been the reluctance of European politicians to declare the virtues of European culture at such a crucial period in time; many, like then Swedish Parliamentary Secretary Lise Bergh, refused even to acknowledge its existence. Most Britons, and indeed many across the continent, are deeply unsettled by the fact that the faces of their respective nations have changed irrevocably. To understand this, simply consider the rise of populist parties across Europe.

In September 2017, the Alternative for Germany (AfD) won 12.6 percent of the vote, entering the Bundestag for the first time in its history with 94 seats. In October of that year as well, the Freedom Party of Austria (FPÖ) saw its share of the popular vote rise to 26 percent, up from 20.5 percent. The Sweden Democrats have seen surges in popularity that have placed them just behind the ruling Social Democrats. Matteo Salvini’s Lega Nord only recently received the largest share of the vote in the Italian general election, surpassing Berlusconi’s Forza Italia. In January 2018, Czech President Milos Zeman described his anti-immigrant stance as the cause of his success over a liberal internationalist challenger. In doing so, he perhaps spoke for the success of the centre-right in Europe more broadly.

The common thread of the success of these nationalist parties on the European Continent has been identity. These parties have reacted to a demographic shift in their respective nations that have increasingly become causes of concern for their electors.

It is not immigration per se, but rather, the rate of immigration as a result of Chancellor Merkel’s ineptitude that has motivated Europeans to turn to parties on the right to assert the existence of a dominant culture within their countries. The United Kingdom, concerned by its own shortcomings in the sphere of multiculturalism, has turned its back on the continent in which things will surely grow worse before they become better. With rates of migration into Europe at a historic high, the United Kingdom severed its ties with the crumbling European Union.

The Brexit vote, whether consciously or not, was an affirmation of national sovereignty and British identity. It announced once again that the United Kingdom had borders, within which there has historically been a dominant culture, itself slowly eroded by the tide of globalism and multiculturalism.

The European Union, like any government, will never voluntarily reduce its size. The vote of the United Kingdom to leave the European Union should not, however, be celebrated merely as an admonition of big government and bureaucracy.

Brexit has proven itself to be an unequivocal rejection of the forces of globalisation and their consequences for the nation state. It has reacknowledged the nation state as the guarantor of representative democracy and the rule of law, thereby turning upon its head the dominant legal and political philosophy that the nation state and its borders are bound to disappear.



Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Google photo

You are commenting using your Google account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s