So that’s it. The sun goes down over Knutsford 31st January 2020, heavy clouds loom. It’s the last sunset we shall see while the UK is in the EU. We are actually out. The UK flag is coming down all over Europe. Winston Churchill’s dream is over for us in the UK, for now – but it is alive and well in the rest of the EU. We wish them well, and hope to join again some day.
Reactions have been remarkably contrasting, notably in the European parliament, where the emotionally mature statements of the European politicians contrasted markedly with the infantile gestures of Nigel Farage and his Brexit Party.
For another 11 months we’ll individually have the privileges of membership, such as freedom to work or retire anywhere in Europe, such as reciprocal medical care when we travel, such as minimal bureaucracy when we take the dog to Europe. Life is likely to be more inconvenient and costly from there on. But that’s nothing compared to the strain on UK people living in EU and and other countries nationals living in UK – it is a nightmare for them. Even for us, it feels that we have been severed from Europe against our will by our fellow citizens – like the branch on this tree.
We now await the Amazing Boris performing the great illusion of Having His Cake and Eating It, just as he did with the Withdrawal Agreement. This time I fear he will fail, falling between Scylla and Charybdis (EU and US). But maybe he is the master illusionist?
If only there had been an evident good reason for Brexit, it might have all seemed worthwhile, rather than being an unnecessary diversion from the real issues we (and Europe) face!
Want of foresight, unwillingness to act when action would be simple and effective, lack of clear thinking, confusion of counsel until the emergency comes, until self-preservation strikes its jarring gong – these are the features which constitute the endless repetition of history.
Winston Churchill, Speech, House of Commons, May 2, 1935
Churchill was looking at the patterns of history and making a point about his own times. He could have been commenting on modern crises such as global warming, ocean acidification, over-use of pesticides, plastic pollution, Brexit, Palestine and on and on. It seems to be in the nature of humanity that only extreme crisis forces the needed change. We are not (yet), in that sense, a collectively rational species.
Picture of dark storm clouds rolling in at the Pawnee Buttes National Grasslands, Wyoming, by MichaelKirsh via Wikimedia Commons
It strikes a particular chord with me having just watched the gripping film Darkest Hour, which portrays Winston Churchill working his way towards the vision that he ultimately expressed to parliament and the British people, inspiring them to resist the Nazi tyranny.
Cassandra Vieten of IONS has published an excellent post Creating an Inspiring Vision for Our Future, which indicates the importance of a vision that will inspire people on the way forward to a better world. She refers to the example of Dr Martin Luther King, whose inspiration continues to motivate people today. Vieten says
In his book “Stride Toward Freedom,” King noted that the outcome of nonviolent resistance was the Beloved Community – not an idealistic utopia free from conflict, but a community ruled by agape which he described as “understanding, redeeming goodwill for all,” or an “overflowing love which is purely spontaneous, unmotivated, groundless and creative.” He said
“It is this type of spirit, and this type of love that can transform opponents into friends. It is this type of understanding goodwill that will transform the deep gloom of the old age into the exuberant gladness of the new age. It is this love which will bring about miracles in the hearts of men.”
In these divided Brexit / Trump times, how the UK and US need to transform the current deep gloom of the divisive old age into the ‘exuberant gladness of a new age’. How could it be other than a vision based on agape?
The memorial museum at Verdun in Eastern France gives a striking impression of this central point of one of the key battles of WW1. Between 1916 and 1917 French and German generals rained down uncountable munitions on soldiers in a hell on earth, with multiple initiatives and counter-initiatives. The museum gives a good feel for the reality of that war for those involved – a sobering experience.
As at the Somme, the result was essentially stalemate, with hundreds of thousands killed on both sides and a traumatised generation of Europeans and their allies.
Fortunately the Americans came along and sorted the battle out with overwhelming force. But nobody got the subsequent politics right at Versailles and we had to go through the whole thing again with WW2.
The Bishops Palace in Verdun has an exhibition showing how the whole experience led to the establishment of the movement towards a united Europe, including pioneering spirits such as Jean Monnet and Winston Churchill. What an inspirational project that was, after the horrors of the extended World War – indeed it still is for many people.
Sad that weak UK governments have created the Brexit process because of disagreements they were not willing to work at and resolve within the EU.
And equally sad that European politicians have not so far shown the vision to help the UK around its genuine problems.