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Yet what took place in June was nothing less than a revolution — a bloodless one, to be sure, as has been the British way for centuries. The democratic decision to leave the European Union was not, as it has been widely portrayed at home and abroad, a vote against immigration. We are not raising the drawbridge to exclude foreigners, let alone turning our backs on Europe.  On the contrary: this was a vote to restore a United Kingdom that is open to the world. We voted to take back control of our borders, not in order to close them, but to restore enough confidence in  them to keep them as open as possible. More than any other country in Europe, we live by our wits: we are free traders and cultural cosmopolitans. We have exported to every country on earth our language and our literature, our ideas and our institutions, our sciences and our sports. Why would we suddenly turn into a nation of nativists, a race of racists, a people of protectionists?

That is not what has happened. What took place last week was indeed a revolution in the way that the British see their relations with the European Union. It was a radical rejection of the whole project of European political and economic union, as it has been pursued since the Treaty of Rome and especially the Treaty of Maastricht. But if Brexit was a revolution, it was a conservative revolution: a peaceful reassertion of national sovereignty. All the cross-border arrangements that work well for both Britain and the rest of Europe will continue — if the EU agrees. European citizens who live and work in Britain may go about their business secure in the knowledge that nobody is going to deprive them of their rights, let alone deport them. We expect nothing less for our own citizens on the Continent — if the EU agrees. Even before we joined what we then called the Common Market, we managed to do without visas or tariffs or other barriers to travel and trade with the Continent, and nobody in Britain wants to impose such barriers now — if the EU agrees. But will the EU agree? Nearly half of us voted to remain in the EU, so there is no appetite for a “divorce”, in Mr Juncker’s unfortunate choice of words. Indeed, we may already discern the outlines of the deal to be negotiated with Brussels. It will have to include an end to the free movement of EU citizens, but as far as the UK is concerned everything else is negotiable.

From Brussels, Paris and Berlin, however, the responses have ranged from the sullen to the hostile. The French, for example, have lost no time in attempting to abolish English as an official language of the EU — never mind that it is the unofficial lingua franca of Europe and indeed of the world. The protectionist measures with which the British have been threatened range from banking and legal services to refusing access to the  Single Market — even though Norway and Switzerland already have it. The spectacle of southern Europe’s martyrdom since 2008, with youth unemployment rates as high as 50 per cent, the catastrophic mishandling of the migration crisis, and Germany’s shameful kowtowing to Turkey, are all still fresh in our minds. The threat of Islamist terrorism grows worse by the day, and we have every reason to expect the catastrophic attacks on Paris and Brussels to be repeated elsewhere. Here in Madrid, you have fortunately just held an election without a repetition of the horrors of 2004, but nobody can say with confidence that democracy is safe from the demographic, social and cultural challenges that Europe now faces. Yet the only policy prescription that emerges from Brussels is “more Europe”, for example in the Five Presidents’ Report. Fortunately the peoples of France and Germany will soon have an opportunity to pass judgment on their governments. But who will hold Brussels to account? Why did not occur to any of the Five Presidents or the 28 Commissioners to take responsibility for the disastrous failures of recent years, culminating in the departure of the EU’s second- largest economy and net contributor? Why has nobody in Brussels, apart from the British Commissioner, resigned, or even bothered to apologise?
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