Like every European federalist, I was devastated by Brexit. Here was the third largest country by population in the European Union rejecting a watered down version of a shadow of a United States of Europe. For someone coming to the UK hoping to find a liberal and rational environment, it seemed horrifying.
But after the initial shock of the referendum result wore off, reflection came, and with it optimism. In many ways, Britain leaving the EU is the end of an awkward relationship which prevented the continent from becoming more unified, and could help shock a movement back into existence.
Britain has never felt at home in Europe. Britons tend to insist that their island is different, that their history and institutions make it impossible for them to join a pan-European state. That is of course false—regardless of what Britons may like to think, they are Europeans, and geography fates them to be forever Europeans.
Britain was excluded from the founding of what would become the European Union, the European Steel and Coal Community, and didn’t join the European project until two decades after it began. Even then, it joined reluctantly, over the howls of politicians on the left and right. Since joining, Britain has been one of the greatest causes of the watering down of pan-European institutional power. Carving itself out of the euro and Schengen, Britain also pushed for a weak European parliament.
The consequences of this pro-individualism has led to the current E.U., which everyone knows and no one loves. It is undemocratic, ineffective, and costly—but not because the Europhiles have made it that way. It is that way because it is a compromise, and like all compromises it disappoints all parties. But while some compromises manage to combine what is best from either side, the EU has managed to do the exact opposite, creating a lugubrious bureaucracy, while remaining ineffective in dealing with continent-wide issues, such as the migrant crisis, allowing itself to be held hostage by individual member states.
This is where Brexit comes in. People chose between a tedious status quo and an inspiring message of change and freedom. No matter how disingenuous that latter message was, it won hearts and votes. But the victory of illiberal sentiment with Brexit also offers hope for us who support a United States of Europe.
Brexit means that Britain will no longer be able to stymie the efforts of greater centralisation of power into pan-European institutions.
Brexit has also shocked the European Federalist movement back into action. What was recently the sleepy preserve of eccentrics has revived a vigorous new movement. Brexit has created a generation whose support for a United States of Europe is forged in opposition to the illiberal sentiment of Brexit, and may yet save the European project.