“Fog in the Channel; Continent cut off!”
Exactly one year from now it will be too late to overrule what is primarily a Home Counties fixation with the Channel being restored as an antiseptic moat to safeguard English culture. Enthusiasm for Brexit is their worst self-harming delusion since they endorsed giving Charles II free rein as absolute monarch. Although there are many types of Brexiteers banging similar drums, the most successfully siren-like is a small and set of quasi-clones—five senior Tories sharing Oxford, leafy homes/constituencies and a passion for things British (by which they mean ‘English’). Their perorations how great Britain will be again, once we cast off the shackles of Johnny Foreigner are as pervasive as they are persuasive.
We all know who they are: Billy Bunter’s Brexit Bovver Boyz—a.k.a. “Form 5B”, Obviously Billy Bunter Johnson himself is leader of this jolly jape, if only because his disarmingly dishevelled demeanour is more affable than the unapologetic conviction of his gang of zealot swots. Liam Fox, Michael Gove, Jacob Rees-Mogg and John Redwood. Each has seized a speaking parts in this farrago, and with all the moralising certainty of 17 -year-olds, Form 5B have control—not just of Theresa May but the entire country through dominating the media agenda. It is as if Form 5B had hijacked the school rugby bus for a pubs-crawl and can’t believe how they are getting away with it. No-one demands to see their documentation (whether ID or business case); no one queries supervision (whether an accompanying adult or statesmanship on the scale of Atlee or Churchill). What a beezer wheeze!
Form 5B betrays a typically teenage penchant for heroics, as if they see themselves re-enacting the American Okinawa memorial, onlt with the Union Jack replacing Old Glory and their Saville Row tailoring looking dapperly outsmarting maribe combat fatigues. It is Dunkirk as Waterloo (with a whiff of Zulu), a ghoulish disinterment of the ghost of Empire to be shouldered high again, set to an emotive leitmotif that blends the ‘thwack’ of willow on leather with the clink of bone china or of bell-ringers echoing across peerless lawns seem through the pristine prism of a perfect G&T.
There is nothing wrong with cherishing such a soft focus visions of England’s thatched cottages across bucolic greens. But, with a serious amount of that same “green and pleasant land” lying within commuting reach of London is under the commercial cosh. Iy is being paved over by the same 21st-century technology that sustains this, the world’s 5th (oops! Sorry, India) 6th-biggest economy, So it makes a poor basis for building Britain’s economic future. Each of Form 5B seem to have snagged an unpaved bit of southern bucolic, so there is consistency in defending it. But the farther you stray beyond their Oxbridge commuter/cultural enclave, the flimsier the connection with Form 5B’s English idyll. It is quite true that Brummies, Scousers, Geordoes, etc. all once built, embraced and benefited from ‘out’ Empire, as much as Jocks, Taffies and Paddies—let alone the home Counties. A century ago, nobody much minded being class-bound, living in a Downton Abbey-style cultural apartheid. Those in charge all spoke the same cut-glass tone—never how the locals spoke. After all, you knew where you stood and Britain being top of the global heap offered financial—if not social—advancement for all.
Were Form 5B preaching to an Edwardian audience from then, they would sweep all before them. Unfortunately, we are dealing with the future, from this point a century later. An analogy even 4th Form might understand: Britain has been playing in the 1st XV. Newer team players have had the temerity to tell veterans how to play rugby, In a huff we leave the team and flounce off to the muddy bottom pitch where the first-years have churned up expecting others to join us and play by our rules.
Britain’s transformation from Kipling-esque colonial masters to an enlightened state has taught us much, not least the value of friends. One key variant on that: rather than waging war every half-century, Europe profits most from lowering barriers and heightening collaboration. Abandoning our common market of 350 million and any opportunity to influence it flies in the face of self interest, let alone is growing Global Billage. Were Form 5B playing hooky the day they taught how Benelux boomed by not pretending to be three autonomous countries? Or how France and Germany, by burying a war-wagon-ful of ancient rancour, overtook us economically—with no empire, oil boom or special US relation to boost them.
Form 5B argue Britain is a great power being shackled by Brussels. The present parlous state of UK finances (underfunded NHS/military/councils/etc.) is accepted by most. But it was caused by our being a second-rate power, deluded vy nostalgia into believing it is still a first-rate one. Our £1.8 trillion debt was not caused by either the EU or European neighbours. It’s just they make better cars/cheese/appliances/chocolate/spacecraft/etc. then we do. And as a lone 60m-population fish in a 7 billion global ocean, if Form 5B think they can arm-wrestle Li Keqiang into a dynamite deal by the 21st-century UK equivalent of a gunboat up his Yangtze, then they are dangerous, as well as delusional. As our (soon–to–be–ex) German colleagues say “Die sind auf dem Holzweg“. In this brutal, competitive world, for a country to prosper, it needs either a USP, or good friends. Switzerland offers stability and banking; Singapore offers to–die–for location… and banking. Thought once distinguished, even revered, British banking went down-market into red braces/loadsamoney/oligarch banking. That’s the same kind of banking Caymans/Bermuda/Bahamas do equally well and more cheaply. Such azure idylls have neither nuke subs, nor 12.5 million geriatrics to feed. Guess who’ll win the business. Now the oil income has been squandered, Britain is struggling to find a USP of any sort.
Which leaves friends. Except that, walking out of Europe won’t leave us many. Business has little time for sentiment. Any country with no USP outside the world’s great trading blocs—be it Brazil or Britain—will struggle. Our fearless friends in Form 5B bluster we will forge new deals. Indeed, we may still land a contract for, say, six helicopters with Parador. But don’t expect the next Eurofighter to include any British components. This weal position will weaken further as existing links into Europe atrophy and all those immigrants keeping our NHS, agriculture, hospitality and other sectors afloat go home.
If Form 5B were just flat caps nodding under horse brasses in the Dog & Duck, or florid whiskrts thundering from wing-back chairs in deepest St James, they might indeed voise the wistfulness many feel at Britain’s decline. But, as a formula for all our futures, it ranks right up there with Canute’s concept of coastal management, ASLEF’s insistence on firemen for diesel trains or the idea that each car required a man walking in front with a red flag. Form 5B fatal flaw is to think they speak for Britain. But they resonate poorly with 75% of Britan. They would take ‘Our Country’ back from the clutches of Aliens—and hand control control to a Home Counties thinking just as alien. Yet that is all that Form 5B knows…or seems to care about.