I have little doubt that 2016 will go down as a major turning point in British history, as indeed was 1973 when we joined the European Communities. Then Britain, racked by post-colonial self-doubt, chose to join Europe’s political project of “ever closer union”, with all its quasi-federal ambitions. This year, however, the British people voted to live again in a fully self-governing democracy in which the European Court of Justice will not be the highest court in the land and EU law will not have primacy over British law. The significance of these changes cannot be overstated. And let us be clear, despite the rearguard action of some Remainers, Brexit will happen.
Events across the pond have spectacularly added to 2016’s claim to be a turning point. Parallels between the Trump victory and the Brexit vote can be exaggerated, but they have two features startlingly in common. They were both complete surprises – almost. And they were both robust rejections of the preachy progressive, liberal establishment.
Rachel Cunliffe, deputy editor at Reaction, says No.
Turning points are a tidy concept in history books, but the reality is far messier.
2016 has seen some political upsets – notably Brexit and Trump – but the resentment underlying them has been building for some time. We knew populism and anti-establishment sentiment had been rising – look at Ukip’s gains in 2015, Syriza’s election victory in Greece, and the intensifying partisanship in the US Congress under Barack Obama.
The biggest upsets are still to come. 2017 will feature Marine Le Pen’s shot at victory in the French presidential election and Angela Merkel’s potential defeat in Germany, not to mention Trump’s first 100 days. The real fall-out from Brexit won’t be felt until we actually leave, by which time the EU might no longer exist as we know it. Meanwhile Europe’s eastern democracies are starting to resemble the ideals of Russia more than the EU. Keep watching.
The global consensus is undoubtedly changing, but 2016 is neither the definitive start nor the end of the shift.