The Peaceful Revolution is Complete

Perhaps the most assertive and British thing about Brexit was not the audacity to turn to a continent and say sorry and farewell, but the manner in which it was done. And that, I would argue, should give 65 million people great hope and pride on this most momentous of days, however you voted. Democracy is safe in our hands.

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By Alexandra Phillips l March 29, 2017

Peaceful RevolutionUK Prime Minister Theresa May signs letter to European Council triggering Article 50 and leaving the European Union

LONDON-All those who campaigned hard for Brexit can breathe a sigh of relief today.

Despite the legal challenges, the public attacks, the slurs and the slander and the slew of politicians trying to derail the process of leaving the European Union, today is Red Letter day.

As the briefcase, carried, rather unceremoniously by UK Ambassador to the EU Sir Tim Barrow and containing the letter written by Theresa May to the European Council, got its 5 minutes of fame, a smile spread across my face. There was no fanfare, no placards, no protests and no fireworks. Yet, I did not miss them. The rather technocratic imagery of the whole affair captured by a formal letter being couriered by a be-suited diplomat into the glass-panelled palace of administration of Brussels’ Europa Building summed up perfectly quite what has just taken place: The legislative reversal of a long, drawn out takeover, not via tanks and guns, but paperwork and propaganda. While we might now have years of laborious negotiation ahead, legally the divorce papers have been served. This marriage is finally over. Article 50 is being triggered and the process of leaving political union with a continent commences.

Already, we have been leaked the EU’s immediate response, outlining the necessity for a mutually beneficial relationship and the need to keep the UK as a very close ally, hardly the war of words and apocalyptic downfall of Western Civilisation that the rather hyperbolic Donald Tusk, President of the European Council, predicted after the result of the referendum.

Brexiteers have held their peace

While their political opposition called demonstrations and marches in an effort to reverse a legitimately reached democratic decision, those who voted to Leave were part of a peaceful revolution, overthrowing overlords to bring power closer to the people.

I cannot think of such a determined and decisive campaign whose results are of such significance, not only to a country but an entire continent, and in many respects, a world order, where not a single drop of blood was shed. Nobody was imprisoned nor tortured, there were no tanks on the streets, nobody has been displaced, and life, it seems, has continued as normal for the tens of millions of people living and working inside the UK who are about to see the skies above them shift. A marker of the maturation of a continent and one of the proudest post war moments to date must be the peaceful and pragmatic manner in which such a political upheaval in Europe has played out. Far from a continent fractured and broken, divided by nationalism and suspicion, instead we find a caucus of people silently united by a commitment to peace and democracy above all. It has been resolutely demonstrated that a political bloc is not required to enshrine these things. We can continue to share the values of mutual respect and cooperation autonomously.

The revolution was televised

A series of interviews became debates, conversations became campaigns, and views from across the spectrum were played out and granted air time in what I think we should all agree was a relatively proportionate manner. From both sides rose complaints over parity and partiality, but the deluge of opinions and counter-opinions that peppered social media and framed discussions at dinner tables and office desks were testament to the sheer diversity of opinion and myriad movements all given a platform by the mainstream print and broadcast media.

To those who complain of Nigel Farage getting too many column inches and lives, I say hard luck. Not only as his former press secretary, but as someone who recognised long before the rest of the world that what Farage was doing was elevating to the public domain one of the greatest political taboos ever created. By challenging an almost indelible hardwired groupthink that permitted the outsourcing of national self-determination to an unaccountable and invisible globalised machine he opened up debate in the UK as to quite what sovereignty could, and should mean, a debate in which everyone got their fair share of air.

For 44 years that debate had been silenced

Only cranks and racists would envisage the possibility of national self-rule. Only someone with an extreme mind-set would endeavour to question the reduced parameters of national self-interest. Yet, the ingredients for all revolutions involve the oppression of a people and the suppression of a belief. In this case, the quiet bureaucratic creep of Brussels that permeated almost invisibly all walks of life and defied questioning was dragged into broad daylight blinking under the harsh illumination of scrutiny. Were Brussels never overstepping the mark nor encroaching upon hard earned national freedoms, there would have been no cause for a referendum. They were and they did, and so Nigel’s words gained traction. The rest, as they say, is history.

But on this day, when the very normal task of carrying a hand signed letter in a battered leather attaché case signifies one of the most definitive turning points in contemporary political history, Britain should bask under the glow of the international spotlight. Those on the Leave side must not gloat. Those on the Remain side must not ululate. We should stand up and say to the rest of the world, this is how democracy is done.

Perhaps the most assertive and British thing about Brexit was not the audacity to turn to a continent and say sorry and farewell, but the manner in which it was done. And that, I would argue, should give 65 million people great hope and pride on this most momentous of days, however you voted. Democracy is safe in our hands.


Alexandra Phillips is former Head of Media for the United Kingdom Independence Party (UKIP), the political party in Britain that successfully campaigned to leave the EU and was aide to its charismatic leader Nigel Farage. She left UKIP after the referendum victory and joined the Conservative Party in order to ensure other big political ambitions are met in the U.K. She is a political advisor and communications consultant in London. Ms. Phillips is also a contributor to SFPPR News & Analysis, of the conservative-online-journalism center at the Washington-based Selous Foundation for Public Policy Research.