Brexit Britain is facing a deep crisis of self-confidence. It will only end in tears – and rising nationalism

The UK has lengthy been divided by class, area and race, however these divisions have been masked by political and financial success. This has meant the English, because the dominant nation within the UK, aren’t good at dealing with a way of failure and a lack of self-confidence. 

The present focus is on parliamentary turmoil and the acceptance or rejection of Theresa Could’s muted model of Brexit however, no matter occurs within the coming weeks, there shall be no decision of the general disaster. Quite the opposite, the divisions exacerbated by Brexit will solely get deeper and extra poisonous, dominating the nationwide agenda to the exclusion of the whole lot else.  

The character of English nationalism – deeply ingrained however so self-confident its norms had been assumed by most English folks to be a part of the pure order of issues – is altering. George Bernard Shaw mentioned “a wholesome nation is as unconscious of its nationality as a wholesome man is of his bones”. Smaller nations just like the Irish and the Poles, with a historical past of defeat and occupation, have grim expertise of getting to nurse again to well being the fractured bones of their nation however for the English worrying about their nationwide identity and the longer term standing is a brand new and unnerving expertise. 

The sense of English superiority was actual however relaxed and sometimes expressed in self-mockery. I keep in mind my late brother-in-law Michael Flanders, a part of the Flanders and Swann duo within the 1950s and 1960s, singing a track entitled Patriotic Prejudice, one model of which ran: 

“The English, the English, the English are greatest,
I wouldn’t give tuppence for all the relaxation.
The Germans are German, the Russians are pink,
The French and Italians eat garlic in mattress.
The English are ethical, the English are good,
And intelligent and modest and misunderstood.”

Many professional-Brexit supporters don’t appear to have superior far past this benign image of the nationwide character. However lately their tone is defensive and self-assertive. Immigrants are to be schooled in British values – no matter these could also be – the very factor Shaw noticed as a symptom of unhealthy nationalism. 

Evaluation of the forces that led to Brexit often appears at points over too brief a time span. The English might as soon as have been assured of their very own nationality however this doesn’t imply they had been as tolerant of others as they often prefer to suppose. Punch cartoons within the 19th century confirmed the Irish as murderous sub-humans. The Aliens Act of 1905, introduced in by a Conservative authorities with a watch to successful votes in a basic election the next 12 months, aimed to exclude Jews fleeing Russian pogroms. A century later, the Conservative Celebration spent years attempting to trump Tony Blair’s capacity to win successive elections by experimenting with several types of dog-whistle anti-immigrant rhetoric, typically mixed with demonisation of the EU. 

Conservative politicians comparable to David Cameron, whose profession was to be destroyed by the end result of the 2016 Brexit referendum, had been highlighting the migrant menace a 12 months earlier than the vote, warning of “a swarm of individuals, coming from the Mediterranean, looking for a greater life, wanting to return to Britain”. This confirmed actual chutzpah, or cheek, since Cameron performed a central position in launching the Nato conflict to overthrow Gaddafi in 2011 that turned Libya right into a land of warlords and predatory militias, opening the way in which for migrants from North Africa to attempt to attain Europe from Libya in overcrowded boats and dinghies, typically dying within the try. 

An extra characteristic of English nationalism will make it troublesome to manoeuvre through the coming years of preoccupation with European relations. Small nations get used to inferior standing and taking part in a weaker hand in opposition to opponents who maintain many of the playing cards. British diplomats perceive this, however a big a part of public opinion in Britain, as in different former imperial nations, sees compromise as an indication of inexplicable weak spot of will or as a treacherous stab within the again. 

This deadly incapacity to calculate the true stability of energy within the EU or wherever else will not be confined to an ill-informed public which has been spoon-fed war-time triumphs. Protecting wars in Afghanistan, Iraq, Libya and Syria during the last 20 years, I seen time and again how troublesome British politicians discovered it to tackle board what was actually taking place and distinguish winners from losers, apparent although this typically was. 

An extra English weak spot – and the change from referring to the English relatively than the British is deliberate – is that neither Leavers nor Remainers have ever thought by way of what self-determination actually means and the way it can greatest be achieved. This can be a completely reputable goal that has impressed nationwide actions in a lot of the world however Remainers are inclined to deride it as spurious patriotic bombast tinged with racism, and Leavers converse of attaining actual independence for Britain virtually mechanically as soon as the shackles of the EU are eliminated. That is in step with the behaviour of each nationalist or liberation motion in historical past which has invariably blamed all of the woes of its folks on overseas rulers or home tyrants. This conveniently saves them the difficulty of getting to clarify what they’d do themselves. 

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Britain might obtain a better diploma of formal self-determination exterior the EU, although everyone within the nation can be significantly poorer. However it could not be as a free buying and selling entrepot like Singapore or Dubai: political and financial isolation for any nation often results in the state taking part in a better position. That is already taking place in a small means in Britain with the Division of Well being arranging uninterrupted provides of medication in case Britain topples out of the EU subsequent 12 months with out an settlement. 

A contradictory side of the Brexiteer undertaking is fanaticism about liberating Britain from EU courts and rules. On the similar time, Leavers are relaxed about British water firms and different important utilities being owned by financiers in Sydney, Hong Kong and wherever else on the planet. 

As Shaw identified, nationwide self-confidence will not be one thing that you just discover till it’s gone and it’s then troublesome to win again. The identical is true of nationwide unity: the apparent fallacy that the British as an entire selected to depart the EU, when the vote was so evenly divided, might solely finish in a self-destructive disaster. To count on such a revolutionary change to be carried out by a minority authorities was demented. No matter occurs within the coming months and years, the English nationality must mend numerous damaged bones. 


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