Author: Dr. Carl Hunter
We see EU Exit as a moment of great divide. Some of damage, others of hope. All however see it as something of great significance. And it is. Though perhaps not as great as we like to think, and when it comes and passes, something that enabled us to have a new country. We will have the time to reflect on who we were, are now and who we will become. For ours is an old country but it is about to be re-born again just as it has so many times before. A moment now awaits us when we can discover new inspirations in ourselves. We will re-discover our distinguishing values, and re-learning these will enable us to find our way to a new peace in ourselves, with a settled view of who we are as a nation and what our nation's place is in the world.
Our commerce will be new and there will be new industries too. There will be new ideas and new outlooks. We will reconcile our divisions and a new character will be re-born from them. There are still testing moments to come, but let us be clear; that despite our passions on either side of the seeming divide, we are one people, united by the institutions we hold dear and the values of freedom and liberty. One's that over 1,000 years we have refined into the instrument for our collective representation in Parliamentand that, for all its flaws, no better means for their representation has been devised than it, and all others that hold Parliamentary Democracy dear around the world have grown from its source in our Palace of Westminster as the Mother of them all.
We have faced great moments of divide before and there will be others that face us in the years ahead, but the ones in our past so often denied whole tracts of our generations from their futures by their deaths in the wars that they did not always understand. Yet in our current divide, well, no-one is dying. We might remember and take consolation from that. For our ability to think and divide has been paid for by those who have bled and died so that we can.
There have been many moments in our past which have divided us. From the dissolution of Empire after the war, to the Suez Crisis in 1956. The Oil Crisis of 1973 and our departure in the "East of Suez" to The Troubles in Northern Ireland which lasted 30 years and between that Vietnam and today Iraq and Afghanistan. But there are another 3 moments of great significance in our long history, all of which seemed of such importance at their times, that their impact could not merely divide, but break open our country. So central were they at their times, to our shared understanding of who we were. Yet how did we deal with them and what lessons can we learn from them as we Exit from the EU ?
During American Independence, it seemed at that time that Empire would not merely falter, but halt altogether. For some in our country the very mechanics of life itself changed. Yet how did we respond ? George III said on American Independence, "I was the last to consent to the separation; but the separation having been made and having become inevitable, I have always said, as I say now, that I would be the first to meet the friendship of the United States as an independent power." Then peace and partnership it has been ever since. Our two great nations have formed our modern world. We still do.
During Irish Independence in 1922, we too often forget that at that time our country was called the United Kingdom of Great Britain and Ireland. Therefore independence for Ireland meant a part of ourselves being severed. For some, it was an assault on the very being of our nation state. And yet it became so and we remained stronger from it. PM Lloyd George said, "We are offering Ireland not subjection but equality, not servitude but partnership." And all these years later there are no stronger peoples than the Irish and the British. For no two peoples have made and lost blood together as we have. "The intertwined histories of Ireland and Britain have indeed known great turbulence, but we meet at a time when the relationship between us has never been more friendly or respectful." So said Michael Higgins, Ireland's 9th President, during his visit to London in 2014. So we are now equal nations in the British Isles.
In 1947 during Indian Independence, the very centre of Empire was disappearing and with it, its reason for Empire's existence too. Yet as PM Attlee said so well, "Is it any wonder that today she claims as a nation of 400,000,000 people that has twice sent her sons to die for freedom – that she should herself have freedom to decide her own destiny?". Mountbatten delivered the King's message at Independence saying, ".. Be worthy of your destiny. May the Blessings of the almighty rest upon you and your leaders be guided by wisdom, tolerance and peace". These are family words formed from great concern but made out of love and affection. And our peoples are as one in our daily lives today.
So at all these three moments of great divide and disruption the words we searched for, the feelings we felt, the heart-felt pains as we separated from the lands we loved, were part of and had formed us, were left without pain, vengeance or spite. They were words made to express our new and future relationships with all them as the equals that they all became. And that strengthened not weakened us. They gave us a unique place in the world and they endure today. And in the years to come, we may wonder why we ever doubted ourselves then and we should reflect deeply today. For Europe will be our partner tomorrow. We are a European nation. Are we saying that our devotion to its supra-national construct is more important than that ?
As Mr Johnson reminds us today, John Stuart Mill recognised that it is only the nation, "united among themselves by common sympathies which do not exist between themselves and others". We need to find it in ourselves to re-discover the magic that so many others see in ourselves those qualities which we so often forget. As the Foreign Secretary said today on the 14th February in London, "In that sense Brexit is about re-engaging this country with its global identity, and all the energy that can flow from that. It is the expression of a legitimate and natural desire for self-government of the people, by the people, for the people." And the institution we must have faith in to deliver that is our Parliament.
And our grace derives from its pillars of Faith and Monarchy that created it.
EU Exit changes a contour on, not the, map of British Foreign Policy. We do not undermine our national interest or our shared interests, with our European neighbours by EU Exit; we simply change a relationship with their European construct, by being with rather than within it. Of far more importance are the changes we face in the international order as the Emerging Nations take a more prominent place in world affairs, as China or North Korea adopt stances in strategic affairs which could "go hot", or as Russian objectives create concerns within NATO, and notwithstanding the ever-growing threats within the maritime and land "ungoverned spaces" from terrorism, human, arms and drug trafficking or simply organised or cybercrime. And the UK has unique advantages to influence these from its relationships with the USA, the Commonwealth, Europe and the Rest of the World, as well as its membership of more international organisations than any power outside the USA and the greatest concentration of soft power the UK has ever had in its entire existence.
"Global Britain" is an invitation for our international engagement not our isolation. Our defence of the international rules-based order which we created with the USA is at the heart of our national interest. We must lift our eyes from the distraction that is our membership of the EU to a global future in which our relationships with our key partners in Europe will flourish and as our dislocation from it calms we will create a new and equal teaming with the EU as exciting as the new relationships became with America, Ireland and India once we separated from them.
And with that will come the opportunity for the United Kingdom to speak with the authority of the grace we learned to use at times of great disruption over centuries. Greatness is borne from great ideas and moments of danger too, and grace has always been its outcome for the United Kingdom. These qualities cannot be retired. But we can sometimes forget them. So let us recall them now most vividly and have confidence that we hold the greatest concentration of them in the hands of our great nation. Today is the greatest day on earth. And tomorrow will be better.