Jon Bigger writes on the likely scene awaiting us and the UK’s decline as a world power – with or without the EU.
It looks like Brexit might be delayed for a few months to allow more time for Theresa May to continue the best negotiations anyone has ever seen. May is the expert at saying the same robotic thing for months on end and I can’t imagine any extra time will produce any new sentences for her to say. She increasingly resembles a fish that erroneously believes it has human lungs. She flaps away on the side of the river bank, gasping for water while yelping “I can breathe, I can breathe” at the top of her gob. If insanity is doing the same things and expecting different results then future dictionaries should just have her picture next to the word.
Regardless of May and what tiny morsels she might be able to extract from the EU, thoughts turn to what an “independent” Britain may look like. The Brexiteers have offered us a rosy picture of what it will be like when they can make our laws for us, rather than us having to rely on the EU to do it (for us). The remainers have painted an apocalyptic vision of a Britain without the correct pallets for trade and a country where basic medicine supplies might not reach the people that need them.
Taking the first few weeks aside (and it looks like they really could be tricky) the one thing that Britain can’t escape from is its continual decline in the world. I suspect that many a Brexiteer has a very nice image of the British Empire, a thought that fills them with pride. No doubt, some believe that Britain can once again rise to lead the world in some way. No. The decline is set to continue. The EU was not holding Britain down and forcing the decline. The EU was masking just how small and pathetic Britain truly is.
On top of which, we talk about this decline incorrectly for it isn’t about Britain at all. It’s about England. It is England’s decline. By annexing Wales and Ireland and combining with Scotland it has been England’s empire all along. The process of decolonisation is incomplete then. There is still a significant portion of Ireland under England’s grip. Scotland is forever re-evaluating the marriage and maybe Wales will suddenly see too that it is England that needs jettisoning.
England is an odd thing. It is a nation but it doesn’t really have a country in an administrative sense. The UK Parliament administers much of England but unlike Wales, Scotland and Northern Ireland it does not have its own body for law making. To complicate the picture further the UK Parliament has devolved powers to cities such as London and Manchester and potentially could to regions. If the other three nations left the UK then this parliament would seem very odd indeed. What would it even do? England therefore needs the final grasp on its empire because it would be very little without Scotland, Wales and Northern Ireland. It would be even smaller without London, Manchester, Birmingham, Liverpool, Newcastle, Yorkshire and Cornwall. But why should any of these entities stay with a failed idea?
England is an idea way more than it is an actual place.
Britain will likely be a subdued figure on the international stage. I’m not going to say that’s a bad thing when Britain has destroyed so many lives around the world. Why should it sit on the security council of the United Nations? Why should any other nation care what the view of Britain is? The fact is that countries can thrive without being mega influential but there’s something in the British political psyche that says it must have its say and it must be heard.
Britain would do well for a moment of humility. Wouldn’t it be refreshing if Britain just declared that the new Britain would be seeking to make reparations for past crimes; to seek to decolonise without being forced to. The crimes of empire are a long list and incredibly difficult to make amends for but wouldn’t it be amazing if Britain said to the world that a proper sense of the stereotypical English trait of “fair play” was going to be the new ethos for a brand new outward-facing country?
The most interesting thing will be what happens when the Brexit loving part of the population realise that life is as shit or even more so outside the EU. We know the Tories want to deregulate current laws on human rights, workers’ rights and health and safety. Those rights will need to be fought for again. So there will be plenty to do – radical jobs for all in the new Britain.
Rights and protections dismantled, the standing in the world devalued, new forms of decolonisation: this is the new Britain awaiting us. Some of it will be awful and some will be much deserved. We can hope that new forms of resistance and levels of solidarity are also ahead of us because we’re going to need them.