Is it possible that there is an upside to Brexit after all?
This week the international community chose to ignore the UK Government’s posturing on possible responses to the deaths by gas of innocent civilians in Syria. The Foreign Secretary gave up a proposed visit to Moscow, at the invitation of the Russians, and went instead to Tuscany to argue the case for sanctions to be applied to key figures in the Russian government and military; this despite there being no demonstrable link between those individuals and the actions in Ibdil province, no proof that the Syrian government was behind those actions, no agreement on any process to establish the facts of the case and instead unquestioning support by the UK Government for illegal military action by another government.
The reaction of Britain’s international partners might just signal more healthy relationships in future, devoid of pomposity and bluff. Perhaps, at last, the myth of Great Britain punching above its weight on the international stage is punctured. As Gordon McIntyre Kemp writes: “the delusion that ‘Great Britain is still a global trade and military power’ is about to be undone by Brexit which was driven by the delusion that ‘Great Britain is still a global trade and military power’.”
With declining US interest in a marginal economy outside the European mainstream, people in Britain can at last give up the pretense of a special relationship; so special as to allow the UK the unique privilege of forelock-tugging its way into illegal wars. Instead of inviting humiliation by ignoring international law, due process and natural justice, the UK Government might learn to present reasoned arguments at home and abroad with fitting humility. Arguments which substantiate, not undermine, the UK’s claims to support democracy, peace and the rule of law.
Once Britain’s place in the world is properly understood, perhaps then the UK Government might learn to attend instead to the needs of all parts of the UK. Rather than supporting military adventures that impoverish us morally and economically, the UK Government might at last choose to build relationships and allocate precious resources to those areas of our economic and cultural life that sustain people.
Because the truth is that for too long the political class in Westminster has been embarrassed by the people who put them in office. It is interesting that in Scotland the people are considered sovereign whereas as in the UK it is Parliament. UK Government Ministers do not aspire to high office in order to represent the people but rather to engage with other Leading People, people like themselves, privately educated Oxbridge graduates, people in the city, in the judiciary, in the media, in the military or in senior foreign government positions. As Neil Ascherson writes “Scotland is a more European, plebeian society, with a smaller “hereditary” middle class and a much less significant sector of private education. People may not like each other, but at least they know each other.”
And perhaps the British public, in learning to see its government as the entitled buffoons they really are and have been for so long, might demand that their governments treat them with the humility and respect they deserve. Or else they might, in their various constituent parts of the UK, decide to take back control.