Britain’s Declaration of Independence

June 29th, 2016

Pundits on both sides of the Atlantic are noting the populist wave sweeping the western world.  Last week’s Brexit vote is Exhibit A that it exists.  Whether this all proves constructive or catastrophic remains to be seen, but there is little doubt it exists and can’t be ignored.

As we approach the Fourth of July, it’s interesting to consider the wisdom of the Founding Fathers about basic human nature and the relationship government should have to each individual.  Last week’s vote in the United Kingdom suggests that the strong desire for self-governance applies to human beings across generations.

Some commentators called last week’s vote “Britain’s Declaration of Independence.”  While proponents of the Leave campaign cited various reasons for separation from the European Union, clearly one of the most effective arguments centered on British citizens’ frustrations with being micro-managed and dictated to by unelected bureaucrats in Brussels, Belgium.

In some respects, the European Commissioners and King George III are fairly interchangeable and only separated by time.  In 1776, British colonists wanted the freedom to govern their daily lives.  Last week, a majority of UK voters sought the same thing.

Immigration played a part in the Brexit vote, but it wasn’t the only issue.  Regulations imposed on British citizens by EU officials were equal if not more important.  Leave supporters cited a heavy cost imposed by these regulations on everyday citizens.

As we know from our own experience in self-governance, some regulations are necessary.  Without them, no doubt many of us wouldn’t live quite as long or as safely.  And then there are some regulations that are quite unnecessary and border on the absurd and ridiculous.

Years ago a book gained popularity called The Death of Common Sense.  It catalogued a laundry list of absolutely ridiculous rules and regulations imposed on ordinary citizens by bureaucrats. Today, a British version could easily be written about many EU regulations forced upon British citizens by the EU.

Included among these are vacuum cleaner standards and Regulation 404/93 which basically dictates what constitutes an acceptable banana.

While some of our fellow Americans might enthusiastically endorse edicts from Washington determining precisely what banana shape is safe to consume, fortunately, I believe this still constitutes a minority.  Most Americans want to be free to eat the banana of their choice.

Today Americans find themselves subject to regulations at the federal, state, and local levels.  Federal regulations alone are codified in the Code of Federal Regulations (CFR).  A complete set of the CFRs make for a lovely addition to the décor of any attorney’s office but are a headache for many citizens when implemented.

Thomas Jefferson once suggested that no law should survive more than nineteen years writing, “Every constitution, and every law, naturally expires at the end of nineteen years.  If it be enforced longer, it is an act of force, and not of right.”

Jefferson also penned the Declaration of Independence with a preamble affirming that “[g]overnments are instituted among Men, deriving their just powers from the consent of the governed.”

In 1776, Americans asserted this basic right against unelected British rule. Ironically, last week the British did the same with respect to the EU proving once again that some things are universal and know no time or geographical boundaries.