Even before the referendum in the United Kingdom (UK) over whether or not to remain a member of the European Union (EU), one of the epithets directed at "Leavers" was that they were "little Englanders."
The UK has always had its share of isolationists. But, looking at the 20th century alone, this is the country that declared war when Germany invaded Belgium in August 1914. It also declared war when Germany invaded Poland in September 1939. And on Christmas Day in 1944 Winston Churchill flew to Athens in a successful bid to thwart a communist takeover of Greece – in which he had the backing of Stalin, who had agreed with him at a meeting in Moscow the preceding October that Greece should remain in the Western sphere of influence.
That might all be history. But the UK currently contributes more to the defence of members of the EU than most of those members themselves do. Members of the North Atlantic Treaty Organisation (NATO) are supposed to spend 2% of GDP on defence by 2024, a target agreed to in 2014. But only a small minority of NATO's 27 European members are spending 2%, despite the fact that NATO was established in 1949 to protect Western Europe from greater Russian incursions than had already taken place when Stalin sent his armies against Nazi Germany.
The UK, Poland, Estonia, and Greece all spend 2% or more on defence. Germany spends only 1.35%. Under prodding which Barrack Obama started and which Donald Trump has intensified, Germany is supposed to reach 1.5% in 2020, but will meet the 2% target only in 12 years' time. Meanwhile, some of Europe's governments, members of both NATO and the EU but reluctant to meet their current commitments on military spending, are once again toying with the idea of a European army.
Few sections of the media have been as hostile to the very notion of Brexit as The Economist. But last month that magazine acknowledged that it "may do some good" to Britain. "The political class had come to see its job as representing the state to the people rather than the people to the state... Britain is engaged in a process of self- correction. The political system is being reattached to the people it represents."
In layman's language, democracy in Britain is back in business.
This is quite an admission from a leading member of that "political class". The reassertion of sovereignty that Brexit represents, and which that magazine spent the best part of three years deriding, is what so many Leavers were determined to achieve. Unless the UK was once again a sovereign state, its parliament would continue sliding towards ultimate irrelevance, while accountability to the electorate would eventually disappear as powers were steadily transferred from Westminster to Brussels.
As long ago as the early 1960s, one of Harold Macmillan's cabinet colleagues, Lord Kilmuir, warned against taking "the first step on the road which leads by way of confederation to the fully federal state".
The "good" repercussions may now go beyond the UK. Voters in several European countries have previously rejected the EU's overriding objective of a federal state, only to be bullied into changing their minds or to have their objections overridden by exercises in diplomatic chicanery such as the 2007 Treaty of Lisbon. By endorsing the 2016 referendum result in last year's general election, the UK electorate set a precedent in refusing to be browbeaten by the "political class". Pro-federalist European governments, not to mention the "political class" in Brussels, will now have to tread more carefully and accord European electorates a little more respect.
The European federalist project is rather like the National Democratic Revolution to which the African National Congress (ANC) is committed. The ultimate objective is turn South Africa into a communist state. Moving too quickly in this direction generates resistance, such as the growing opposition to expropriation without compensation. From time to time tactical retreats are necessary, but the overall ANC strategy makes allowance for these as long as the ultimate objective is merely retarded rather than abandoned.
The British referendum result and Boris Johnson's election triumph have been derided as victories for "populism". But if populism means that electorates take back control from supranational European institutions and bureaucrats in Brussels, then Europe is clearly in need of more such "populism".
* John Kane-Berman is a policy fellow at the IRR, a think-tank that promotes political and economic freedom. Readers are invited to take a stand with the IRR by clicking here or sending an SMS with your name to 32823. Each SMS costs R1. Ts and Cs apply.