UK: Slave to Europe?
With Brexit, the British government remains depressingly out of touch with the world.
- With Brexit, the British government remains depressingly out of touch with the world.
- British politicans are eager to reset the framework of British politics by regaining the past. They seriously believe that Britain could “take back control” and be a world power in the 21st century.
- Britain’s citizens in their totality have become victims in a power game that is far beyond their control.
- Refusing to live up to global realities at long last may well cost Britain the future it could have as a major and decisive force inside the EU, which despite its shortcomings remains a vastly exciting political venture.
Back in 1951, Dean Acheson, then Harry Truman’s Secretary of State, had sound advice for his British counterpart, Anthony Eden: “You must learn to live in the world as it is.“ Almost 70 years later, that remains a siginificant challenge.
The victims of this failure of Britain’s conservative political class are the country’s citizens. They are mere pawns in a power game far beyond their control.
I was reminded of this when watching the “Last Night of the Proms” on TV in England the other night, hearing thousands at the Royal Albert Hall and elsewhere roar “Rule Britannia, Britannia rule the waves; Britons never, never, never will be slaves!”
The patriotic song originated from the poem “Rule, Britannia” by James Thomson and was set to music by Thomas Arne in 1740. The song has come to represent Britain’s feeling of historical and supposedly everlasting greatness.
An overstretched empire
However, listening to the song today at a time of Brexit, one gets an eery feeling. After all, as long ago as the late 19th century, it had become perfectly clear that the British Empire was anything but sustainable and its resouces were overstretched. That Empire was costing more than the country was actually gaining. It was making a few people rich, but not the country as such.
To provide the country with a broader economic base, ideas of a “Greater Britain” came up, to include Canada, Australia, New Zealand and a few other dominions. Attractive as that sounded at the time, the downside was that this would have entailed creating a Greater British parliament.
Westminster did not like that idea, and the idea was turned down, as the first of many attempts at matching British national strategy to global reality. When World War I broke out, Britain found itself in a deep domestic crisis. The suffragettes, workers on the brink of a general strike and the Irish made their demands known.
Going to war was, in a sense, a way out of the domestic conundrum. Yet, Great Britain with its waning power needed the United States to win it.
On the global plain, the next big event was the battle for supremacy in the Middle East, an imperialist venture if ever there was one. Contrary to legend, it was not about heroes like Lawrence of Arabia, but about oil, widely seen among the country’s elites as the best mechanism to maximize the UK’s economic base. Alas, the battle was finally lost to the Americans.
Instead of reading the writing on the wall, the majority of Britain’s leaders and citizens, fascinated with a glorious imperial past, turned a blind eye to the mounting setbacks and failures, a string of financial, budgetary and currency crises notwithstanding.
Depressingly out of touch
In Acheson’s words, the British government was “depressingly out of touch with the world.” And so it is today.
Although the Empire is long gone, to this day British politicans are eager to reset the framework of British politics by regaining the past.
They seriously believe that Britain, possibly England alone, could “take back control” and be a world power in the 21st century.
Flights of fancy
What is really devastating is that this illusion has rendered Britain an easy prey for those who, for their very own political ends, chose to lead Britain down this path.
Bashing Europe and exiting from the arrangements with the continent is for them an elegant way to recast their nation as being on par with China, the United States and Russia, as well as potential newcomers to the world stage from the south.
As it stands, Britain’s citizens in their totality have become victims in a power game that is far beyond their control.
Refusing to live up to global realities at long last may well cost this great country the future it could have as a major and decisive force inside the EU, which despite its shortcomings remains a vastly exciting political venture.
A Britain that is certainly no longer “ruling the waves” and is instead frightful of being “slaves” to Europe is only taking further flight from reality. Dean Acheson’s sound 1951 advice is still going unfulfilled.