Politics creates its own "gravity" to use modern coinage. That can attract the body-politic to consume itself on issues that distract from a higher national and international mission. It generates a tendency to avoid confronting "drift" and leads to a certain focus downwards, often "tactical" or operational at best, but strategic it is not. Our people though have created a moment of strategic opportunity for us. It is for us in Westminster therefore to move from our customary "reactive representation" of policy responding to events, to one of education and leadership in and of them. For these are the hallmarks of statesmanship and they are required now, for in our referendum our people voted for the ideal of their nation state and is its "ship of state" which must be led now, and they remind and require our political leaders to behave as statesmen and stateswomen so that it is. Too often we forget that the word "statesman" derives from "steersman", literally steering the ship of state and lest we become consumed by operational level matters in an eventual free trade agreement with the EU and its transition period, we should consider looking beyond that to create something more strategic with Europe..
As we prepare for EU Exit this attraction to "reactive representation" has been shown in stark relief. We seek answers to questions from the PM that have been given many times and long ago. Mr Jacob Rees-Mogg MP correctly warns of the "vassal state" possibility. But we are not there yet and it need not occur at all. As Sir Oliver Letwin MP says so sensibly in his book "Hearts and Minds", "There is no substitute for reading the primary sources". For the PM these are the Philadelphia, Lancaster House and Florence speeches and in them are described just what HMG is delivering; a United Kingdom free of the EU, the Single Market and the Customs Union and with an almost Churchillian worldview of a Global Britain re-setting our place in the world in a series of four balanced relationships with the USA, Europe, the Commonwealth and the Rest of the World.
At Lancaster House, the PM said, "Our vote to leave the European Union was no rejection of the values we share. The decision to leave the EU represents no desire to become more distant to you, our friends and neighbours. It was no attempt to do harm to the EU itself or to any of its remaining member states. We do not want to turn the clock back to the days when Europe was less peaceful, less secure and less able to trade freely. It was a vote to restore, as we see it, our parliamentary democracy, national self-determination, and to become even more global and internationalist in action and in spirit." To that degree, we might have greater confidence that, beyond EU Exit and its transition phase, the PM is creating the possibility for us to become the first nation on earth to have, not one "Special Relationship" with the USA, but two, with the USA and the EU.
From this then, are we not unduly focusing on the matter of a free trade deal with the EU, when we should we more strategic and looking beyond that instead to the creation of a new Special Relationship with the EU and making ourselves the only country in the world with two such Special Relationships ? Our relationship with the USA is "special" and unique. It is the most complex and dynamic the world has ever seen and has endured since we forged the international rules-based order 73 years ago. You can see the plaque today on the Tothill Street side of Central Hall :
Here in London and with our strategic partner, the USA, we created the United Nations, the International Monetary Fund, the International Bank for Reconstruction and Development, which we know of now as the World Bank, and a few years later NATO itself, the world's most advanced military alliance the world has ever seen. Too often we see ourselves at the end of WW2 as an "exhausted nation". Then if we were, how did we manage to achieve these at our point of exhaustion, and why today do we see ourselves as a "spent" nation beyond decline and unworthy of great ideas ? Our Special Relationship with the USA was based on our military, intelligence, security, economic and financial interests but forged in war on values of freedom, liberty and hope. Now is the time to create another, with the European Union, and become the only country in the world that has two such Special Relationships.
The European Union was forged from despair, from its tragic experiences of invasions, forced transportations, migrations, and subjugations. The very materials of war were neutralised in the creation of the European Steel and Coal Community and a catholic social democratic philosophy led its members to develop that to a European Community, which held the ideals of a creation which would never again let loose the opposing forces of the nation states within it that had led to its continental destruction in two world wars. Worthy and idealistic indeed and one we should support and did. But as the EC transformed itself into the EU it lost that spiritual direction and in its stead set its course for the creation of a currency towards a United States of Europe and the inevitable destruction of the ideal of the nation state and with it the very purpose of the United Kingdom's membership of it. For we have always been Europe's "power of last resort" and the bearer of the higher ideal of security, prosperity, liberty and freedom within it.
For the United Kingdom is a nation state with its Constitution and Parliament going back a 1,000 years. Our society is as bound to its faith in Parliament as Faith and Monarchy are its essential twin pillars. The secular liberal narrative seeks to diminish and extinguish these . But just as liberty itself cannot, neither can they. And at our referendum they came to the fore. Whether we try to ascribe its result to immigration, excess regulation or the dilution of national sovereignty, might its reason be something more romantic and deep-seated? That within the beating heart of England itself lies the enduring faith of what is right, and that which is right connects to the very common law itself, based on precedent not judgement, and the precedent of ours is the place that makes our laws, our Parliament, within our country. And that for all its faults it is ours and in it is created the political miracle that is the election of our Members of Parliament. For in those same 1,000 years, can be found the delegation of absolute Monarchical power to our Members of Parliament, and at our moment of voting therefore, we are "touching" the powers of Monarchy which have been delegated to and now reside in our Members of Parliament.
How can we have ever imagined that this constitutional miracle could sit at ease within a 60 year EC-EU construct by members that had no such 1,000 year unbroken experience ? There were no specific reasons to leave the EU. Our people simply felt an unease that "something was wrong" and that we should celebrate the enduring legacy of their sense of faith and our way of life within our nation state. But in no sense does that mean we stray from our deep-seatd wish to support our European allies and neighbours and to safeguard their understandable wish to create their United States of Europe either literally or figuratively. But our new relationship must be sensitive to their wish to, and alive to its dangers should it fail. For those dangers will be the same ones that have always led us to "rescue" Europe from itself, deeply bound to our Defence and Security capabilities. Our commitment to free trade , liberty, freedom and Parliamentary Democracy are the very ones that complement the ones we hold dear in our capabilities to defend them. And they are deeply tied to Europe. For we share a common purpose in our joint relationship and we should look beyond EU Exit to assure them of this more special bond.
For beyond Europe there are wider risks which we must "see". It is why we are so patently unprepared for what we saw happening in the 1980's in the South China Sea and has now become real in competing Asian territorial claims within China's "9 dash line" or our folly in moving NATO to Russia' borders in the 1990's, or our support for patently hateful organisations in Afghanistan in the 1980's which in themselves bred what we know of as AQ or ISIS today. We failed to see the consequences of either EU enlargement or greater integration. We have always been at the centre of the "rules based order" yet we sat apart from it and as more "ungoverned space" was created in Africa, parts of the Middle East and in the seas themselves in the Indian Ocean and off the coast of West Africa and the Malaccan Straits we did little to maintain our place at the centre of that "rules based order". In the "oil for defence" compact we let the economic disadvantage of the former in the Middle East release huge financial support for extremism. Russia sees itself as the natural bridge between East and West and if China is the problem, India, Japan and Russia too may be its solution. In all of these we still retain the ability to influence for the "global good" but we have to wake from our slumber to make it happen. We remain a player at the strategic table but with a very much more limited "pot" in some core areas .This can be changed but we need to move very quickly. So there is no excuse, and every compelling reason, to "right" our relationship with Europe now, so that we can look out to the world which we are connected with regardless of our very recent focus on it and generate the far more exciting future we have in prospect as the Global Britain we can be.
We are becoming larger in our connectivity to the world as a nation but smaller in our strategic understanding of it. The secular and liberal influences have left us uncertain of our underpinning values though more self-aware of our characteristics. We have often avoided potential strategic threat and focused on those that gain "momentum" instead. We have sometimes traded strategic for economic advantage. But we do many good things as a society and we are better now in so many ways. But it is not enough. We have a duty to do more. We still have enough of those skill-sets to effect "change". We still have a little bit of everything which can offer the core structure for unified national renewal and international standing. But it is becoming a very close run thing. The nation is asleep.
As we exit the EU, we can create the most extraordinary nation at home and a happy, content and peaceful society but we will need to reverse some of our "received thinking" and understand who we are at home and overseas to do so. Let us attend to our mutual needs with Europe first but looking to a future Special Relationship with it, not merely a trading partner of it and to a series of balanced relationships with the USA, Europe, the Commonwealth and the Rest of the World. If we do now, then the future is very bright for this, our special country.