The second edition of Brent H. Cameron’s book, “The Case for Commonwealth Free Trade: Options for a new globalization is available now on Amazon worldwide.
This time last week, I sat in a pub in Westminster, about 3-4 blocks from Parliament. I was fortunate enough to be there at a significant time in the nation’s political history. My misfortune was to be there when virtually every day involved a significant downpour from the heavens, but je digress.
In my time in Britain, I found myself in a variety of places, and in the company of a great number of people drawn from all walks of life. The advantage of being a Canadian in such situations was clear – close enough that the conversations could be familial, but with enough detachment as to be politely candid when needed.
I do not wish to comment on specific individual exchanges. Beyond having the privilege to attend the Commonwealth Day Service at Westminster Abbey on March 11th, I wish to consider the week as largely functioning under Chatham House rules.
That does not mean that I cannot offer some observations.
To this humble outsider, the political situation in Britain is both better and worse than I had been able to glean from a distance. Like any mature democracy with a significant history of respecting individual rights and the rule of law, it can naturally display all of the characteristics of grace under fire – the trademark ‘stiff upper lip.’ To be blunt, there is only one part of where I visited that is experiencing this volatile combination of ennui and existential crisis, and it is properly contained in a radius of a 15-minute walking distance of where the stairs of the Westminster underground station open to Bridge Street and the Houses of Parliament. Whether it be the debates in those chambers, the eclectic groups of protestors who line the sidewalks that run the length and depth of Parliament, this epicentre of angst has not travelled out to any significant degree.
People gather in their local Pret, or Costa Coffee, to visit with friends and loved ones. They read the papers, but seem to be more taken with Premier League action and – based on last weekend – the Six Nations rugby play. Nobody seems to chat about Brexit, and when they do, its greeted with a sigh, an eye roll, and some muttering about ‘getting on with it.’
When the motion picture “Darkest Hour” appeared in theatres, one of the main critiques of the film was the scene where Winston Churchill (played by Gary Oldman), hops on an underground train and engages in a conversation with his fellow passengers – about the war, and the prospect of pain, suffering and sacrifice in the years to come. In the scene, he finds that his fellow Britons – drawn from all walks of life – understand what’s at stake, and having reasoned the options available, have made their choice. They understand what is being demanded of them, and know that it is the nature of such conflict that they will be the ones to bear the greatest burden. Still, they are resolved to see the struggle through – more so than those which Churchill must argue with and debate over the war effort.
Those with any grounding in the facts of the matter know that no such meeting ever took place, and yet it was the quality of the leadership that Churchill brought to bear that no such meeting was even necessary to begin with. He did not need a contrived Hollywood scene to divine the mood of the nation, or their collective character. He did not need some impromptu meeting of working class Britons in order to gauge their resolve. The qualities he brought to bear – a lifetime of observation and action, a prodigious knowledge of the nation’s journey through the centuries, and his abiding love of his land – were enough to understand both the issue at hand and the resources that could legitimately be brought to bear.
That scene – however contrived – revealed a truth about the British people, their character and their resolve. They are fair – proud without being prideful, and determined without being unduly obstinate. Above all, they are astute enough to know what they signed on for.
In short, there is wisdom in this crowd, and second guessing their intelligence, or their commitment to a course of action, serves no great purpose other than to undermine the whole.
Brexit was a disappointment to a number of people, but that is the nature of any vote where a choice between two alternatives is on offer. For one side to win, the other side must acknowledge that their proposition was rejected. To delay and obfuscate under the pretext that something was untoward or dubious in the decision is, quite frankly, undignified and insulting.
A recent Sky poll indicated that 90 percent of those asked felt that Britain had suffered some degree of humiliation in the way in which the negotiations have been conducted. How much of that perceived ‘humiliation’ derived from Brussels or Westminster is a point of discussion, but it would be a safe assumption that there are few sets of clean hands on this.
During the Second World War, the British government urged the people to “Keep Calm and Carry On.” Today, it is the British people who are urging the same of those empowered to lead the nation. That advice should be heeded.If that doesn’t work, then Prime Minister May might do herself, and the nation, a favour to ditch the chauffeur one afternoon and take a ride on the Underground – preferably before March 29th. She will likely find that ‘minding the gap’ between the train and the platform is easier to do than the one emerging between her and the people.