A piece for our time?
With apologies to Neville Chamberlain, Prime Minister of the United Kingdom in 1938.
He made the declaration ‘Peace for our time’ in his 30 September 1938 speech.
It must be something of a prayer for Prime Minister May as she flogs round Europe (again) seeking a nugget to swing doubters on both sides of the fence about her Brexit agreement. Begging the German, or any other, Chancellor for help is not only unlikely to bring a result, it is undignified. One of the rules of stature is be what you claim to be. ‘Great’ has to be lived for any country that prefixes its name with the title. At present Britain isn’t looking very Great and that is sad.
The divisive nature of the exit agreement with the EU is fully illustrated by the fact that opponents to it include hard cores of those who say it is not enough and those who say it is too much. The wobbly of the Irish hard border should never have been even considered a problem by the EU or by Britain. The history of Ireland, with ruthless terrorism as part of its fairly recent past, should be enough to convince even the most cynical politician that a hard border is not feasible.
So complex has the agreement to exit the EU become that what needs studying now is not a more detailed divorce settlement but a thorough look at the whole question of Britain’s and Europe’s future in a world dominated by China, USA and, eventually, India and others. As Harold Macmillan, British Prime Minister 1957-1963 said of South Africa in a 1960 speech ‘The wind of change is blowing through this continent’. His implied forecast that South Africa would have difficulties integrating was born out by subsequent events. Well, the wind of change is now blowing across the whole world. If your home was affected you would huddle together for support and safety.
The British Government is significantly increasing its civil service to cope with a no-deal Brexit. Mrs May has postponed the House of Commons vote until mid-January, only two months before departure date. She gives the impression that she is possibly going to railroad the bill through Parliament with the threat of an election at the point of departure. That would put the cat among the pigeons. MPs voting for their own demise is not a regular behaviour in parliaments. Of course, if she did that her credibility would be, like the British currency, deeply depressed. That credibility is severely dented by the 37% of Conservative MPs who voted against her in the confidence vote.
It is time to realise that we need to be a piece of Europe. Our muscle on our own, whether political, social, or economic, is so badly reduced outside the EU that we could end up as a quaint little floating island drifting, as floating islands do, to nowhere. Reinforcing the floating islands aspect of Britishness is not a clever purpose.
The idea that a no-deal Brexit will “be coped with” is probably true. The price will be more than anyone bargained for. The mess is getting worse by the day. Its impact on the economy will be quite severe even with a deal. Most voters have not worked that out yet. They should listen to another former leader, Bill Clinton, who in 1992 was asked what mattered in the forthcoming election. He said “It’s the economy, stupid”. But of course there is more to it than that.
William Lloyd Garrison, a big political figure in the 19th Century, said what many of us think today.
“Our country is the world – our countrymen are all mankind.”
Amen to that.