Thursday, June 30, 2016

June 30 2016--Little England

Until recently I never thought much about what the Great in Great Britain meant.

Of course I knew about the British Empire where the sun never sets, though by the time I was a young adult coming into political consciousness, most British colonies had broken away and were linked mainly though trade agreements, immigration policy, and as members of the British Commonwealth. With emphases on common and wealth.

Now, after the Brexit vote I am understanding that what is likely to remain of Great Britain or the United Kingdom will no longer be so united or so great.

Scotland and Northern Ireland, the major components with Wales of what is united and left of that kingdom, will figure out ways to secede and on their own, either, as in the case of Northern Ireland, unite with the rest of Ireland, while Scotland is likey to form an independent nation of its own and in both cases will, one way or another, affiliate with the E.U.

What remains will coalesce into just England, which wags and British haters (there are many on the continent, which compounds the problems) are now referring to gleefully as Little England.

From Great Britain to Little England. What a comeuppance. Or comedownance.

The European Union in its inception was supposed to accomplish a number of things.

First--and this attracted most of the ultimate E.U. countries to affiliate and for many of these adopt the euro as the common currency--first, there were the obvious economic advantages. To create the ultimate free trade zone and in that way, though far from forming a true United States of Europe, forge the world's largest trading block and collective economy.

Then there were the political reasons to build an E.U. Many of the future members had made war with each other at various times over many centuries. Most dramatically the First World War (which up to that time produced the most military and civil casualties in history) and then the even bloodier Second World War which were fueled by collapsed economies and rampant, virulent, and rivalrous nationalisms.

The thought was that if these historic enemies could become entangled for mutual advantage in an integrated economy and open their borders to commerce and people, making money together (not love) would overcome their seemingly genetic impulse to make war.

With many caveats, what was envisioned by E.U. founders such as Jean Monnet, up to now has worked. There are many spats to be sure, especially in recent years, as prominent examples, about the admission to the E.U. of Islamic Turkey and immigration and refugee policy (not unrelated), there have been no wars (trade or military) and relative prosperity, especially for the countries with the largest economies--Germany, England, and France.

But enmities remain and have been largely papered over. Xenophobic nationalistic inclinations persist and historic rivalries lurk just below the surface.

The Brits voted to leave the E.U. just a week ago and already German and French leaders, among others, are pushing the UK to leave the E.U. by the end of next week, not next year or two or three years hence.

I am exaggerating to make the point that not only do Germany and the current French leadership want to set an example of harsh and unyielding treatment of Britain to discourage others from thinking about following suit (including France where an emboldened Marine Le Pen is already calling for France to exit--Frexit), but also because of a still vibrant dislike of things British. Especially perceived English arrogance, moral superiority, and--this is important and closer to home--having served since at least the early 20th century as the United States' poodle.

For us that poodle has been important. With much of Europe suspicious of America's agenda, the UK has served as an essential bridge for us to the continent. Our "special relationship" with Britain has included not just an almost always willing partnership in global adventures and interventions (including support for the Vietnam and Iraq wars) but also as an eager partner in intelligence gathering and fiscal and cultural policy.

If as many say (fear as well as look forward to) Great Britain's fall in status and stature, the prospect of Little England, is both real and confounding. For us, there will be estrangement and thus less influence as Russia and others grow restive and flex their muscles.

Which means that over time we may be also heading to become Little America.

Jean Monnet

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