Britain hasn't gone mad -- it is getting ready to lead again

Theresa May: What you need to know
Theresa May: What you need to know

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Theresa May: What you need to know 01:14

Nile Gardiner is the director of the Margaret Thatcher Center for Freedom at the Heritage Foundation and a former aide to British Prime Minister Margaret Thatcher. The opinions in this article belong to the author.

(CNN)As Britons head to the polls Thursday, Brexit will be the defining issue for many voters. How Britain leaves the European Union will shape the country for generations to come.

Of course, security will play some part in British voters' thinking following the appalling atrocities recently suffered at the hands of terrorists.
But from the start, this has been in the eyes of many the Brexit election.
The ruling Conservative Party has vowed to leave the single market, negotiate a robust trade deal with the EU and carve a new, truly sovereign future for Britain on the world stage.
    Even the opposition Labour Party, led by the left-wing Jeremy Corbyn, has grudgingly pledged to honor the will of the British people expressed in last year's referendum on EU membership -- though its Brexit stance is loaded with caveats. The only major party campaigning against Brexit are the Liberal Democrats, who according to the most recent projections, would do well to pick up 10% of the vote.
    A strong Conservative win would be an emphatic endorsement of Prime Minister Theresa May's vision for delivering Brexit.
    May has staked her reputation and her future on her pledge to ensure that Britain's break with the EU will be a success and will kick-start a renewed drive for British prosperity and global influence.
    While just under 52% of British voters opted for Brexit, the fact is the majority of the electorate will vote for parties that are ultimately committed to leaving the EU. Die-hard Remainers are now, mercifully, a minority in the UK.
    Despite the absence of large-scale political and public opposition to Brexit in the UK, some European and global political and media elites continue to sneer at the move to leave the EU and portray it as a narrowly nationalist, bigotedly isolationist and unthinkingly populist phenomenon.
    One thing to know about the UK's snap election
    One thing to know about the UK's snap election

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      One thing to know about the UK's snap election

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    One thing to know about the UK's snap election 01:12
    On both sides of the Atlantic, critics paint Brexit with the same broad brush as avowedly populist, and in some cases extreme, movements in France, the Netherlands and other parts of Western Europe.
    The reality, of course, is strikingly different. Far from being a one-dimensional, knee-jerk, anti-establishment development, the drive for Brexit has been decades in the making.
    The intellectual case against the European project was first made by Prime Minister Margaret Thatcher, in her seminal Bruges speech, delivered nearly 30 years ago, and followed later by her 2002 book, "Statecraft: Strategies for a Changing World," where she raised the possibility of Britain leaving the EU.
    It is no coincidence that the Conservative government today is, like Thatcher's three-term administration, the most pro-American, pro-Atlanticist, pro-free market and anti-Moscow in Europe.
    It is simply ludicrous to compare the protectionist, big-government, pro-Putin campaign run by Marine Le Pen and the French National Front with the relentlessly positive, pro-free trade and market-driven approach of Britain's Conservatives.
    If May delivers an emphatic win at the ballot box Thursday, it will be an endorsement of an outward-looking, truly global Britain that seeks to lead on the world stage rather than retreat from it.
    It would owe much to the original vision of Thatcher, who dared to think the unthinkable in challenging the existing status quo on Europe. It would also be a firm rejection of Labour's hard-left tilt under Corbyn, an admirer of Karl Marx, which threatens to return Britain to the dark days of the trade union-dominated 1970s.
    Brexit will undoubtedly be a huge game changer. It may lead to a fundamentally different Europe over the next quarter century, one where sovereignty and self-determination emerge as significantly more powerful principles across the entire continent.
    Following Britain's departure from the EU, Europe may never be the same again. But the Europe that emerges should be one that is more outward- than inward-looking, more closely tied to the trans-Atlantic alliance and better able to deal with the myriad challenges of the 21st century.
    Ahead of the British election, we want to know: What do you think the UK's place in the world should be? Call us and leave a message. Your response could be used on CNN.