Saturday, June 25, 2016

A new empire or a broken Britain?

Commenters on New Zealand's right-wing blogs are excited by the win for Brexit. They talk about a Boris Johnson government reestablishing independence and putting the great back into Britain. 

Conservative Pakeha are clearly enjoying the idea that Britain might turn away from Europe and reanimate the Commonwealth, drawing the old settler-colonies of Australasia closer even as it rebukes Germany and France. Imperial nostalgia has been encouraged by leaders of the Brexit campaign, like Nigel Farage and Michael Gove, who have promoted the Commonwealth as an economic alternative to Europe, and suggested that leaving Europe would allow Britain to increase its trade with nations like Canada, Australia, and New Zealand. There are dim echoes, in these suggestions, of Oswald Mosley’s proposal for an autarkic British Empire
But what all the talk about refortifying Britain and revitalising the British Commonwealth misses is the ethnic character of the divisions over Brexit. Most English want to leave Europe; majorities of Scots and northern Irish don’t. Brexit is more likely to disintegrate than revitalise Britain, because it will prompt the Scots to demand independence inside Europe. Fintan O’Toole sums the situation up well when he says that the Brexit campaign has been driven by English, not British nationalism, and that its success may cause ‘one of history’s strangest national revolutions’, as an English nation state stumbles from the wreckage of Britain.
It would be fascinating to see the implications of the end of Britain and the emergence of England on Pakeha consciousness. British nationalism has always been a corporate identity, in which different nations find a common identity, and for many decades the settler-colony of New Zealand seemed almost as British as Scotland or Wales or Northern Ireland. When our British Israelite Prime Minister William Massey visited Northern Ireland in the early '20s he remarked on the similarities between the institutions and identity of that territory's Protestant majority and those of the settler-colonists of New Zealand, and his hosts observed that he would make a good ruler of Northern Ireland.

How would conservative Pakeha cope with the breakup of Britain? Would they still be able to defend the place of the Union Jack on New Zealand's flag, when that banner no longer flew over Westminster? Would they shift towards an identification with English nationalism, or would this be impossible, given that so many of them are descended from Scots?

[Posted from Scott Hamilton]


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