From presiding over the Home Office’s nationalist legislation to the current Brexit chaos and the new Windrush scandal, Daniel Reast writes that Theresa May has slept with a sword in her hand for two years, but the blade has cut too deep.
The caretakers at 10 Downing Street scuttled into the airing cupboard to fetch the flags on Friday, as renowned Deal or No Deal contestant Theresa May🔒 stamped up to the lectern. And oh, what a delight she gave to us, the British people, and any international audiences.
In Steve Bullock’s damning article for this magazine, he explained that the Prime Minister’s haughty position on the EU is totally ridiculous. Considering that we have known the position of the EU for two years, May’s bravado was just a thick steam designed to antagonise and divide. I’m surprised Elgar’s ‘Nimrod’ from the Enigma Variations was not surreptitiously pumped through loudspeakers.
The speech was a definite sign that the UK is closer to a ‘no deal’ Brexit and to irrevocable damage. But in retrospect, this daring and tough position from Theresa May is just patriotic fervour set to music. It’s this type of fervour that often takes over rhetoric and banishes any sense of a rational argument. The UK is not the green and pleasant land that we think it is.
Tough talk from a Conservative is very normal. The Daily Express ran a Churchillian comparison for the Saturday edition, talking of May’s finest hour. Personally, I felt Theresa May would have better suited a blue suit and handbag to assist her Thatcher impression even more.
The news has been focusing on the negotiations needing a ‘tough and steady hand’ or ‘dogged persistence’. The reality of modern international relations, especially with supranational institutions, is that failure to acknowledge and respect the rights of all individuals will only lead to a failed argument. May’s Conservatives have been marching to the Brussels meeting rooms armed to the teeth with indefatigable rhetoric.
The EU have always had the same positions, and they have respected nationality and political will in perpetuity. For Theresa May to turn into Violet Elizabeth from the Just William stories, is no way to show deference to those who would respect your lines. Throughout this sorry affair, the constant babble of political machinations has been laced with an undercurrent of British exceptionalism and near-imperialist arrogance.
The patriotism of Brexit supporters is so strong that they would rather damage their country just to save face. This national pride will undoubtedly turn to hubris.
Our loosely United Kingdom has never fully come to terms with its imperial past. In academic circles, postcolonial history and literature is widely studied. At my time in Portsmouth studying, there was a strong sense of constructivism towards the West’s imperial past. The history curriculum, which for some reason is a political yo-yo, has little mention of Britain’s colonial crimes and histories. With the topic of Northern Ireland being so prominent, it’s remarkable that the horrors of the past have not swayed opinion in Downing Street.
As mentioned, the ever-blue Daily Express evokes a headline that compares Theresa May to Winston Churchill. If readers of the paper would realise that Churchill was not the Messiah but a very naughty boy, we would all be grateful for the revelation.
This relationship with a flag-waving and redcoat-toting history has become even more relevant due to the failures of government with the Windrush scandal. Conservative MPs are quick to support and cajole any who are shocked. But after May’s ‘Phoney War’ declaration, her government quietly released the news that the Windrush scheme has begun to deny citizenship requests based on criminal convictions or a lack of official documentation. The whole policy scandal is totally abhorrent to the concept of citizenship, family support, and to any notion of human rights. It is worth noting that this year marks 70 years of the UN Declaration of Human Rights, which Conservative governments have repeatedly broken.
Britain is no longer the Empire that it was, nor should it be seen as such. Brexit has only damaged the image of the UK further and if this crisis is ever ended through remaining with the EU, us plucky Brits will have to do some serious work to improve relations. Theresa May has slept with a sword in her hand for two years, but after such a virulent display of nationalism, the blade has cut too deep.🔷
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(This is an original piece, first published by the author in PoliticsMeansPolitics.com)