When in 1970, French President Charles De Gaulle vetoed Britain’s bid to join the European Union the British establishment was downcast, and tried again to bring it into the Union, succeeding years later, when De Gaulle was no longer in power in Paris.
But with the just concluded vote to Brexit from the same Union, it is now clear that De Gaulle knew in his mind one thing that the British establishment didn’t know, or refused to accept that they know – that Britain is not a European country. From the grave, the willy General De Gaulle has been vindicated and shown to share an ironic kindred spirit with the British common man.
Yes, Britain is physically in the European continent, but in cultural essence it has never been part of Continental Europe. Its spirit has always been elsewhere. Like a wife who has been forced to marry one whom she does not love, she has cohabited politely with Europe, but her mind has always been fonder of more distant places.
Britain doesn’t have the same European experience that say France, Germany or Italy have. Experiences that constantly shifted borders and ensured that one town is Italian today, French tomorrow and German the day after.
For instance, name one Holy Roman Emperor who was British. While the German kings who went on to become Holy Roman Emperors were crowned at Pavia in Italy, and the Roman Catholic Church headquarters once moved to France, the British have always looked on at these events from a certain distance.
The Channel Tunnel that separates Britain from Continental Europe is a metaphor of Britain’s separation from the rest of Europe. When an underground tunnel was built connecting Britain to France across the Channel, it was said that Britain was no longer an island as it now had a land border with Europe. But that’s not enough. The same way Britain’s membership of the European Union was not enough to make it truly European and she had Brexit.
So, with the Brexit reality, what is Britain’s place in the world? Britain’s place is as a stand-alone Anglo Saxon power. Britain’s place really is as the cultural leader of the Anglo Saxon World.
When George Bush II of the US went on a state visit to the United States and he was giving a speech in the presence of the Queen, he made a verbal blunder, and as people laughed in polite uproar, he turned and told the world that the Queen (of England) had just giving him a look that only a mother can give her child.
That remark led to even more laughter, but the truth of the matter is that George Bush, in his own simple way, was telling a great truth.That Anglo Saxon US, in spite of its super power – some would say, lone power- status, is the cultural mother figure of the Anglo Saxon sphere of the US.
Yes, the US fought a bitter war of independence with Britain and repudiated King George, but in that context, the US is like the rebellious child that constantly fights with its parent, whose relationship can be characterised in terms of the love-hate dynamic. The child may occasionally show rebelliousness, and choose to assert himself by choosing some ways to be ‘different’ from Mama or Papa, but underneath all that show of independence is love for the parent.
When the Puritans were leaving Britain on the May Flower to start a community apart from Britain, they were showing rebelliousness. And after that initial ‘upheaval’ they became a ‘colony’ of Britain. Then they fought bitter wars to extricate themselves from the influence of King George and resolutely decided that the British monarch will no longer have any political influence over them. But when an American talks of the Queen today, we know she is referring to Britain’s Queen Elizabeth.
Even as the United States has risen to be a super power, Britain has always followed politically in its coat tails, even to the extent of going to wars unilaterally with the US -even at the risk of being called the 51st state of the United States.
The United States on its part, has shown great filial piety towards the US in such areas as fully supporting the UK’s ownership of nuclear weapons. Compare that with its half-hearted support for the French nuclear arsenal. In the mind of the US Anglo Saxon Establishment which is still very influential, Washington and London are two capitals of the same country.
The Anglo Saxon world also includes Australia and New Zealand, where Her Majesty The Queen of England is still Queen; as well as Canada. All these places have a large Anglo Saxon population, and Britain’s place is as a cultural sun around which they revolve, and with Brexit, that sun can now shine brighter.
For those that may say that Britain has lost a lot economically due to Brexit, I would reply that in many ways, Britain has much closer cultural ties with Australia than with Austria, and those ties could lead to massive economic cooperation that would trump whatever has been lost from socioeconomic and sociopolitical integration withing the framework of the EU if parlayed very well.
So, in essence, what I am saying is that Britain should at this point strive to reengage culturally with its Anglo Saxon brothers or children, namely Canada, The United States, Australia and New Zealand, and to some extant South Africa, and with that cultural re-engagement would come economic benefits.
In terms of international hard influence, Britain has always expressed itself through geopolitical partnerships with the United States. And nothing stops Britain from engaging individually in robust partnerships with individual EU countries.
Britain has an effective entente cordial with France, that led to vital British support for France during World War 2, for instance. Britain also has a very good economic partnership with The Netherlands, which has led to the formation of such successful commercial ventures like Anglo Dutch Shell. Britain has historic relations with Portugal for instance, and Britain is still a committed member of NATO.
Also, nothing stops Britain from continuing robust engagement with the EU as an institution. After all, they both share a lot of values like respect for democracy and the rule of law, capitalism (even if of different hues), etc.
Disclaimer: This article which is dedicated to Her Britannic Majesty, is meant to guide Britain to be a responsible world player (or power), and is certainly not a call for a resurgence of British imperialism or Neocolonialism.