In the James Bond film, Skyfall, Tiago Rodrigues, a one-time “brilliant” secret service agent according to his boss, “M”, mocks a tied-up 007 about the latter’s obsession with MI 6, the legendary British spy agency, and the vanished Empire since Bond still believes in “resurrection”.
It is possible that the 51.9 per cent of Britons who voted to leave the European Union in a referendum thought the same as Bond. The leader of the far-right United Kingdom Independence Party (UKIP), Nigel Farage, called June 23 an Independence Day, and Nicola Sturgeon, leader of the Scottish National Party, thought that a second Scottish referendum was on the way..
It was UKIP’s challenge from the political right which spooked prime minister David Cameron to opt for a referendum in the belief that the threat of a turmoil will prevent any adventurism on the part of the Conservatives.
But he miscalculated for, evidently, the Little England and Little Scotland sentiments were aboard. Their emergence into the open has led to a plea by Sinn Fein for a Big Ireland with the merger of Britain’s Northern Ireland province and the Republic of Ireland.
Several dreams are being resurrected, therefore, well beyond the hopes of the Little Englanders to rescue their country at long last from the clutches of what they regard as the grey-suited, overpaid and underworked Brussels bureaucrats of the EU.
As the American-born Boris Johnson, who calls himself a one-nation Tory, said after the success of the “quitters”, to use Cameron’s word, Britain can now frame its own laws according to its requirements and control immigration. It is the easier inflow of migrants, especially from Eastern Europe, under the EU regulations, which is said to have fuelled Brexit sentiments of Leave rather than Remain.
The sentiments were so strong that they led to a pro-Brexit activist to shoot and stab to death a young pro-EU Labour Party M.P. Jo Cox, while shouting Britain First. He also shouted “death to traitors” during his trial.
The killer may be insane. But he reflected the views which saw the proximity to Europe as a threat which will set Britain on a road which might ultimately lead to London’s famed red double-decker buses being phased out and the traditional fish ‘n’ chips items in eateries being printed in Latin.
Like the mad killer, these fears might be outlandish, but they placed
England – not Great Britain, but England – on a footing which has to be far removed from the “natives” of Europe – an England with its fox hunting traditions and stone country cottages and the rolling greens..
Not surprisingly, there has even been talk of an independent England, marking a new beginning after 1603 when the English and Scottish thrones merged.
True, the 3.8 per cent gap between the Leave and Remain groups is a small number, but it can usher in changes which the Little Englanders may not have foreseen. One will be the changes of the leadership of the two major parties – the Conservatives and Labour. The possibility of the right-wing Johnson becoming prime minister will be as unsettling as the ouster of the leftist Jeremy Corbyn who has been accused of not running a successful campaign to stay on in the EU.
Corbyn is also considered unfit for leading Labour in what can turn out to be a turbulent general election if the victory of the Brexiteers = a new coinage – is followed by calls for the independence of Scottish and Greater Ireland.
But these are not the only worries. There is little doubt that the call of the “quitters” resonates with racism and xenophobia, neither of which is a respectable sentiment. Although the criticism of Eastern European immigrants targets whites, it is still a form of racism and ultra-nationalism.
Of all countries, Britain has been freer of these prejudices than, say, France or Germany where blacks and browns and especially Muslims are not particularly welcome. But Brexit can change all that, especially if the economic fallout is not favourable for Britain.
The similarity between Brexit and Donald Trump’s neo-nationalism is obvious. It is directed against immigration and the loss of “position” in the world. Once again we see the rise of aggressive chauvinism in two English-speaking countries.
A third English-speaking country in its upper segments, India, will experience some jitters in the IT sector, but the slowdown set off by Brexit will lead to a fall in the prices of commodities like crude oil which will help India’s import bill. Arun Jaitley, therefore, does not seem too concerned.
But these are short-term impacts. In the long run, it will take time for the world economies to adjust to Britain’s departure from the EU. What is more, the political fallout of two general elections – in Britain and the US – will have their own destabilizing effect. All of this will be troublesome at a time when the global economic scene is somewhat rocky.