A Long, Dark, Sad Night
In his A History of the English-Speaking Peoples, Winston Churchill wrote:

Every nation or group of nations has its own tale to tell. Knowledge of the trials and struggles is necessary to all who would comprehend the problems, perils, challenges, and opportunities which confront us today... It is in the hope that contemplation of the trials and tribulations of our forefathers may not only fortify the English-speaking peoples of today, but also play some small part in uniting the whole world, that I present his account.

Winston Churchill wanted the United Kingdom’s historic experiences and contributions to play a role in “uniting the whole world.” That purpose, which transcended national borders, defined part of the vision that animated Churchill’s extraordinary leadership. It helped fuel his remarkable and courageous perseverance during the darkest days of World War II.

Some sixty years after Churchill’s four-volume work was published, the night of June 23, 2016 was long, dark, and sad. With no Winston Churchill to face down the dark and fearful forces unleashed by Nigel Farage and Boris Johnson, two of a number of populist demagogues who have appeared on the world stage at this point in the 21st century, just under 52% of the United Kingdom’s voters decided to disengage from Europe. They abandoned Winston Churchill’s larger vision of uniting the world in, among other things, the enlightened principles that first appeared in the Magna Carta and were later expanded upon in the English Bill of Rights of 1689.

The vote took place in the context of a persistently struggling European economy, considerable uncertainty about the United Kingdom’s economic prospects, anxiety about its place in the world, and worries about secular trends that are reshaping job and career opportunities. All of this provided unusually fertile ground for demagogues who pursue power through national division. Lacking leadership capacity and solutions for addressing contemporary challenges, they shift blame for those challenges onto immigrants and religious minorities. To rationalize their pursuit of power, they discredit governing institutions and leaders. To rally voters, they peddle the snake oil of physical, economic, and legal barriers, all of which make it more difficult for nations to realize their opportunities while doing little to address their problems.

In many ways, the Brexit fight was an uneven one from the onset. That the Bank of England and International Monetary Fund warned of significant adverse economic consequences from a Brexit vote was not enough to overcome the appeal of the darker forces backing exit. Those forces commanded the proverbial high ground on account of their being able to exploit raw passion.

People respond strongly to fear and anxiety through emotion. They react instinctively and abruptly to escape their fears. When anger is added to the toxic brew of fear and anxiety, there is explosive potential for overreaction and irrational choices—the kind of decision that was made yesterday.

In stark contrast, the kind of evidence-based arguments on which the “Remain” side’s case rested require thoughtful deliberation to have impact. Such deliberation weighs trade-offs and evaluates alternative scenarios. Building commitment requires a lot of time. Only at the end of the deliberative process can strongly-held positions emerge and decisive action become possible.

Time ran out. Last night’s outcome saw emotion triumph over reason, excess over moderation, and the current moment over future consequence. As a result, the United Kingdom and European Union will be grappling with the fallout, perhaps for years to come. Both may wind up fundamentally changed, and not necessarily for the better. Although just under 52% of those who cast ballots may have chosen Brexit for themselves, in their short-sighted choice, they may have imposed national breakup on all of the United Kingdom’s residents.

Following the end of World War II, Winston Churchill declared, “Strength is granted to us all when we are needed to serve great causes.” Sadly, there was no leader who possessed the kind of strength to which Churchill had referred. As a result, at the precise moment history served up a new great cause for the United Kingdom, a slight majority of its voters failed that test. That is not the tale Winston Churchill would have wanted to tell. For that I am profoundly saddened.


Stormlizard said:

They will later wish they had placed the Cross in the other column.
8 years ago

Don Sutherland replied to Stormlizard:

In reality, there were "two" United Kingdoms. "Younger United Kingdom" strongly supported remaining in the European Union. "Older United Kingdom" largely voted to leave the European Union. 72% of voters aged 18-24 voted to remain in the European Union. 59% of pensioners voted to exit.


This has frustrated younger voters. One such voter, Lauren Razavi wrote:

Over the course of a single night, baby boomers have rejected expert opinion and torn apart my generation’s future. Why? Because a vague notion of making our country “great again,” combined with an infectious hysteria about immigration, was enough to convince them that things have to change. They were so convinced, in fact, that they were happy to vote for Leave without any definition of what “great” looks like, and no road map to actually achieving it.


Another, Nicholas, wrote:

A quick note on the first three tragedies. Firstly, it was the working classes who voted for us to leave because they were economically disregarded, and it is they who will suffer the most in the short term. They have merely swapped one distant and unreachable elite for another. Secondly, the younger generation has lost the right to live and work in 27 other countries. We will never know the full extent of the lost opportunities, friendships, marriages and experiences we will be denied. Freedom of movement was taken away by our parents, uncles, and grandparents in a parting blow to a generation that was already drowning in the debts of our predecessors. Thirdly and perhaps most significantly, we now live in a post-factual democracy. When the facts met the myths they were as useless as bullets bouncing off the bodies of aliens in a HG Wells novel. When Michael Gove said, ‘The British people are sick of experts,’ he was right. But can anybody tell me the last time a prevailing culture of anti-intellectualism has led to anything other than bigotry?

8 years ago

William Sutherland said:

Well written. I can only hope that Brexit doesn't rekindle the past violence in Northern Ireland since closed borders with the Irish Republic/EU, evaporating economic opportunities and a climate where each side attempts to impose its will on the other may shred the region's hard fought gains for peace and reconciliation.
8 years ago

Don Sutherland replied to William Sutherland:

I agree. One always has to worry about what might happen when the forces of sectarianism are unleashed or reawakened.
8 years ago

Stormlizard replied to :

Yes Don, those two youngsters have their headssxrewed on properly, pity thier parents etc, had the spanner to unscrew them.

I think that American companies that had opened offices etc, in UK to gain market access in Europe will look and move these elswhere, cost to the UK, loss of jobs, Japanese companies may well do likewise.

I will need a new Passport as the British EU version will no longer be valid. Very glad I chose to escape from that place long ago.

The worst is that the difference between stay or go was so small it could be said as a tie, here in Denmark when election results are so close a recount is demanded.
8 years ago

Pam J said:

I am devastated.... it's broken my heart.

I am first.. last.... and always ENGLISH.

I watched the numbers last night and watched MY country commit suicide. I watched it roll back 250 years of NON isolation.

Whilst I was never a lover of the EU... you dont have to like something to know its the way you need to go. I saw the Vote In... and now... years later.... its the way still.. IN...

This was something that never should have been a Referendum... and had the outcome been to Remain... I would have still said that. The vote was /is too close to be a mandate.

And.. what scares me most...... is a portion of America is looking to vote the same way with horrendous consequences.

There is much I would write...but this is not the place.

But know... I have cried more today than in many years. I feel part of my heart was ripped out.
8 years ago

Don Sutherland replied to Pam J:


You have my deepest empathy.

It is really tragic to see what has happened to a country that has contributed so much to humanity over the course of history, especially in the area of representative government. Even more tragic, it was brought about by a slim majority of those who cast ballots.

Like you, I don't believe there should have been a referendum. In my opinion, if the issue were to be debated and decided, the proper place to do so would have been the House of Commons. But now that the proverbial Pandora's Box has been opened, I worry greatly that what's been done, cannot or will not be undone. I also worry that numerous unintended consequences will follow.

Finally with regard to the phenomenon that you noted, it appears that following major economic upheavals and/or dramatic secular transformations such as the Industrial Revolution, the political environment is exceptionally hospitable to the rise of populist demagogues and movements. For example, following the 1837 Panic and the ensuing Depression, the Native American Party or Know-Nothing Party was established in the United States. In the wake of the recent financial crisis and Great Recession, in combination with the changes being driven by advancing technology, one has seen such populists and movements once again appear on the political stage in various parts of the world.
8 years ago

William Sutherland replied to :

Sadly history has been full of these examples with demagogues sowing chaos and anarchy where stability and progress exist. These same demagogues supported the Soviet putsch and tragic 1991 breakup of the USSR. What have we gotten? Numerous wars in the former Soviet states and terrorism. These same demagogues pushed for regime changes across the Middle East. The same tragic results. Now they're cheering Brexit and hoping for the EU's demise. To them it's all about power and dynastic politics (the U.S. Presidency is being transformed into a dynastic dictatorship). They could care less about the proven facts that unity brings prosperity and peace through strength and shared resources, inclusion deters aggression and war (thus to them, NATO must remain an exclusive organization meant to perpetuation East-West divisions in Europe with the latest examples being provocations directed at Russia when in fact Russia should be offered membership since members do NOT wage war against each other! No wonder it's an obsolete relic!). Perhaps Texas is next but then suddenly to American demagogues that have cheered the USSR breakup and Brexit, they'll say it's different.

Then again maybe they won't since they can only retain power through division and war that ensures their relevance and builds their repulsive personal wealth and legacy on the shed blood of those who lost their lives in combat and through terrorism. Without 9/11, I doubt anyone would even pay attention to George W. and his demagoguery and petty politics and he would have no legacy. Without Brexit, Cameron's bland, failed leadership would be forgotten. Now he has a way to be remembered too.

And as always, real people and future generations will suffer as these demagogues cling to a divisive, intolerant and regressive past putting personal interest above all else. :(
8 years ago

Taormina said:

Sieh es mal so, die Bananen dürfen wieder Krumm sein
und die Gurken haben kein Gardemaß.

Aber im Ernst, es ist traurig und es ist nicht abzusehen was
und das alles kostet. Milliarden sind gestern schon an der
Börse verloren gegangen und das ist wohl nur der Anfang.
Mir tut es vor allem für die Leid, die das ganze "Hilflos" nicht
verhindern konnten und nun ausbaden müssen.
Die Heranwachsenden Generationen.
8 years ago ( translate )

Don Sutherland replied to :

I fully agree with you, Stormlizard. I hope that you won't have difficulty obtaining a new passport, if it is needed. I truly regret the outcome of the UK vote and the consequences that it has set off despite the razor thin majority in favor of Brexit.
8 years ago

HappySnapper said:

Great piece of wisdom Don, reflects my views entirely.
8 years ago

Don Sutherland said:

In the wake of the narrow majority's having chosen to exit from the European Union, the centrifugal forces that could tear apart the United Kingdom appear to be intensifying. Scotland is hinting at holding another independence referendum. In addition, at least some European political leaders have said that an independent Scotland would be welcome in the European Union.

From The Washington Post:

“If Scotland wants to be a member of the European Union as an independent country, then they are welcome,” said Manfred Weber, the chair of the European Parliament’s center-right European People’s Party and an ally of German Chancellor Angela Merkel. “But that’s up for them to decide. That shows that there are positive signals. Some people do want to be members of the European Union.”

Britain could undergo even further dismantling if the Nationalists in Northern Ireland, which also voted to remain in the E.U., press ahead with their calls for a vote on Irish reunification. Already, signs at the main post office in Belfast warned all who entered that it had already run out of applications for passports from Ireland.


At this time, the enormous generational divide and rapid accumulation of signatures on a petition for a re-vote may offer a small possibility that the outcome of the Brexit referendum could be reversed. That possibility is much less than 50%, but a small possibility is still better than none.
8 years ago

Pam J replied to Don Sutherland:

Don... one can dream and hope.. but realistically all was explained before the Vote.. and it was made clear there would be NO second Vote.

Its also extremely likely that the EU would commit penaltiies(and can you blame them)

Leave didnt give a stuff.. they knew what this would do to the UK... they KNEW... and egos got in the way.

I also never wanted Scotland to separate from the Union... now... I cannot blame them one single bit.. and as for N.Ireland.. both have go for it....

THIS is the HELL Leave have vested on the disUnited Kingdom

Take heed America....

I feel sick with worry and hurt.. and I know I am not alone. I live in America.. it is NOT my "home" (yes I have hard won DUAL nationality because it was the ONLY way American Immigration would stop persecuting me ... AND I wanted to be able to Vote as is my duty) and I see a portion of the electorate seeing the UK as a champion for this awful vote. I can only hope that America wakes up and sees the damage.. damage that isnt even showing the tip of the iceberg.
8 years ago

Don Sutherland replied to :


I completely agree. The odds of a second referendum are low. At the same time, the UK's credibility with the EU has been severely damaged.

The politicians leading the "Leave" movement wanted out of the EU at any price. They gave no consideration to the futures of those who would be affected. They gave no consideration to the continued integrity of the UK or any other future consequences.

Like you, even as I'm not from the UK (though I have some Scottish and Irish ancestors), I strongly opposed Scotland's separation and the referendum that was held. I saw no basis for it given the UK's broadly representative democratic government in which all citizens have a voice. Now, the "Leave" movement has given Scotland credible rationale to pursue separation.

The vote kicked off one history's great tragedies. That tragedy is still in the opening act, so to speak.

Further, I respect your continuing to embrace your English identity. I also understand the legal reason for your adopting a dual nationality.

Finally, like you, I hope Americans make sober choices in the month ahead. The lessons of the Brexit referendum outcome suggest that the risks of complacency are very high.
8 years ago

Pat Del said:

England is a land of hope and glory. Don't forget our past and our heroic contribution to save Europe from brutality.
I shall be in Cambrai, next Thursday for the centennial of the Battle of the Somme.
" France prepares for Battle of Somme centenary
United Kingdom – Commemoration of the Battle of the Somme centenary – Reply given by M. Jean-Marie Le Guen, Minister of State for Relations with Parliament, to a question in the National Assembly (excerpts)

"Paris, 21 June 2016

"You’re right to recall that, 100 years ago, men from every continent confronted each other for 141 days during a terrible battle, known as the Battle of the Somme. The conflict, which began on 1 July 1916, was carnage from day one: 60,000 men were killed or wounded in the first 24 hours. On this part of the front alone, the confrontation was to kill 400,000 and wound 800,000 between July and November 1916.

"This battle took the heaviest toll on our British allies.

"The Battle of the Somme is to Britain’s collective memory what the Battle of Verdun is to ours: a symbol of the horror of war, the absurdity of a self-destructing Europe and the bravery of the soldiers.

"For all these reasons, the preparation for the Battle of the Somme centenary has prompted major Franco-British investment, under the coordination of the Mission du Centenaire on the French side. For 141 days, an exceptional commemorative season will be organized, with the high point being the ceremonies organized on 1 July. A total of 20,000 people are expected for the occasion, including 10,000 in Thiepval for the Franco-British ceremony. The state services are mobilized to a very large extent to ensure the security of these events. Many countries, from the Commonwealth in particular, will participate, and it has been announced that the British Royal Family, Prime Minister David Cameron and the Irish President will attend."
8 years ago