Alphen, Netherlands. 21 July. Britain stands at a grand strategic juncture. In a speech broadcast from 10 Downing Street on VE Day, 8 May 1945, and entitled “Advance Britannia”, Winston Churchill said, “We may allow ourselves a brief period of rejoicing, but let us not forget for a moment the toil and efforts that lie ahead”. Thankfully, post-Brexit Britain does not find itself prostrate on the rocks of penury having fought a six year war in the defence of Europe’s freedom. As Churchill made his famous speech British debt to GDP stood at 250%, compared with a contemporary ratio of a still too-high but manageable 89.2%. However, if Britannia is to advance Prime Minister May must be under no illusions about the culture, thinking, and groups she must either change or face down if Britannia is truly to advance. Who are they?
Scottish secessionists: The Scottish Neverendum Party (SNP) represents a clear and present danger to the Union because they will use any excuse to secede. Secession is, after all, why they exist. Prime Minister May must face them down, not least by pointing out the inconsistencies in their case, and not just about Scotland’s economic fundamentals. The SNP fought the 2014 independence referendum with a clear understanding that if they succeeded they would take Scotland out of the EU. Now, they are claiming to fight for independence to keep Scotland in the EU. Worse, by campaigning in the UK-wide Brexit referendum SNP leader Nicola Sturgeon legitimised the vote as a UK-wide vote. To claim now it legitimises her call for a second independence neverendum might be clever politics, it is also rank hypocrisy. A renewed clash over the future of Britain is now inevitable.
Remoaners and lawyers: My on balance preference was for Britain to remain in the EU. However, I am a democrat and accept the decision of a majority of the British people to quit, as I would have accepted the settled will of the Scottish people had they voted to quit the UK in the 2014 once-in-a-generation referendum. Efforts by those on the losing side to change the result by legal hook or political crook are appalling. If they succeed democracy will be well and truly dead in the UK, to be replaced by legal fiat. This is a battle that has been long in the making between Parliament and a section of the judiciary who routinely seek to use European law to erode parliamentary sovereignty. Brexit must indeed mean Brexit, and democracy must indeed mean democracy.
Little Britons: Some of the post-Brexit commentary about a post-EU Britain demonstrates the extent to which many in London do not understand power. One of my critiques of the EU has been the extent to which Brussels has hastened the retreat of many Europeans from power in favour of often vague, vacuous, dangerously self-defeating and self-deluding ‘values’. Too often the EU has failed to aggregate the power of its member-states into strategic influence and effect. This has contributed markedly to the culture of decline management one finds at the heart of Westminster and Whitehall, and which has done so much damage to Britain and its strategic brand.
Little Englanders: Then there are triumphant little Englanders, some of whom seem to think a post-Brexit Britain is on the verge of rebuilding the British Empire. There are signs that the clunkily-named (I think I named it!) world Anglosphere is beginning to swing behind Britain. However, the Anglosphere must not be seen as an alternative to engagement with Europe. Little Englanders are particularly deluded over immigration. Britain’s power is established on its facility and ability as a trading nation. Given the link between trade and the free-ish movement of peoples the only real choice, and by extension control, post-Brexit Britain will have over immigration is from whence it comes and for what purpose. The real choice Britain faces in this world is between wealth and power or poverty and weakness.
Vengeful Europeans: There are those in Europe, particularly in the Élysee Palace it would appear, who want Britain ‘punished’ for exercising democracy. They and their ilk should be left under no illusion that whatever the domestic pressures they face a pragmatic and respectful Brexit is in the best interests of all. The alternative is the mutual impoverishment and weakening of the democracies, and the strengthening of real adversaries and enemies. Thankfully, Chancellor Merkel appears to understand that, even if she will do all she can to protect German interests during the Brexit negotiations.
Economists: …because all things being equal they do not understand power and are wrong about everything.
The May Strategic Agenda: Prime Minister May must now rebuild the very idea of Britain and build it on power fundamentals. Britain is the world’s fifth biggest economy and the world’s fourth biggest defence spender. Britain is not the small island that some would have it and in any case power not geography (Mackinder or no!) dictates influence and effect. From a defence-strategic viewpoint the British armed forces will have a particularly important role to play in rebuilding the idea of Britain. This is not because the future Britain will be militaristic or nationalistic, heaven forbid! However, a country needs a sense of moderate patriotism to function and such patriotism must identify with a legitimate strategic brand that is built on power. And, given the dangerous world into which Britain is moving the armed forces must combine with Britain’s amazing soft power to communicate to the world British strength and stability. When Britain’s strategic brand is strong, Britain and the world are a safer place.
To succeed Prime Minister May will need to combine strategic imagination, purpose and resolution. For too long the very idea of Britain has been suborned by political correctness, nationalist secessionists, those for whom the very idea of country is bad, nostalgic idiots, and short-termist, visionless politicians who have allowed the very idea of Britain to whither, and for whom Britain is mere balance-sheet. From the conversations I have had it was precisely such views of Britain that were rejected by the pragmatic and informed many in my native Yorkshire, the heartland of the Great Revolt.
Churchill finished his VE Day broadcast with a call to peaceful arms that is no less relevant today. “We must now devote all our strength and resources to the completion of our task both at home and abroad. Advance Britannia! Long live the cause of freedom! God save the King!”