By Tom Huggins-Teasdale
Like some of you reading this, I recently sat with my family and watched the latest series of The Crown on Netflix. While there’s a lot of debate about the accuracy of the show, one scene in which a then Princess Elizabeth makes a speech on her 21st birthday sparked my interest.
The purpose of the speech was to help Elizabeth publicly dedicate herself to the service of all of her father’s subjects, not just those in England itself. One of the phrases used in the speech stuck in my mind ‘this family of nations’ and I couldn’t stop thinking about it for the next few days.
Families are complicated things.Some move along together well; some argue constantly, and others toe a line between the two extremes. The disagreements that families have can be small and insignificant; easily smoothed over. On the other hand, they can force everyone to choose a side and create rifts that might never heal. A family of nations would be no different, after all; that’s how wars begin.
The UK has taken on different roles in that family over the time of its existence. We’ve been a child, being shaped by older societies, from the Romans, Vikings and countless families with a claim to the throne. We’ve also had our time as the head of the family, and we proved ourselves to be a parent that rules through fear, while claiming it’s for the good of others. More and more I’m afraid, we’re becoming the Uncle no one wants to invite to Christmas dinner, afraid of what we might say to offend.
No matter our role however, we’ve always been a part of the family until now. We’re changing, moving out and talking more and more about living alone. Brexit is often cited as the UK’s divisive issue, but it’s just a symptom of a larger disease. White supremacy, Nationalism and classist views have long been the truly irreconcilable differences that led to a kind of Decree Nisi in the EU referendum.
So, if Brexit is the Decree Absolute that followed, when did we decide to go it alone?
Anti-Immigrant sentiment has been used politically throughout history. When you need someone to blame for the ills in society, who better than someone who can be painted as ‘different’? You can point out all the ways in which they’re not like ‘your’ voters. Different skin, different language, different religion or different culture. These are the same sentiments that have driven Britain’s retraction from the rest of the world.
Data collected by Ipsos Mori and arranged by Oxfords Migration Observatory, showed that in 1994 as few as 2% of the population may have considered immigration to be an important political topic. By 2015, this figure from the same data had risen to 56%. Looking a little further it’s interesting to note that since the Brexit referendum, the importance people placed on immigration as a political topic has dropped, making way for concern over the EU and the NHS. This demonstrates the way in which the talking points created by groups like Britain First and some political factions can shape the public view.
The truth is that this country is like a family too, and not all members of a family think alike. When someone with a public platform starts telling us that something is the fault of any targeted group, they have a willing audience. Our family has members that are biased, prejudiced and are ready and willing to accept any and all of these narratives as the truth.
There’s a level of absurdity to the way in which our country has started to look inward. Whether we like it or not, we live in a world full of systems designed to operate in a global manner. Like all families, we need members that were not born to it, in order for it to grow. Countries that avoid being part of that society, or that conduct actions that are deemed unacceptable find themselves limited. That may be due to other countries being unwilling to trade with them, or through groups like the UN or EU bringing economic sanctions to bear. While we as a nation have in no way consigned ourselves to the same global reputation as North Korea, we have taken a step away from the platforms that could position us as leaders. We have lost a voice and an opportunity to be part of something larger.
When a family breaks apart, there can be reconciliation but that takes work and a desire to do so. Sometimes, one or the other is lacking. So does our country have the will to help pull the family of nations back together?
Personally, I don’t believe that the UK will remain as an isolated nation. Whether that means re-joining the EU or some other collaborative grouping remains to be seen.We don’t have the resources needed to retain our position on our own; why else would we need a complex Visa system? No amount of ‘we managed during the war’ or ‘Dunkirk Spirit’ is going to change that. Those that make those statements miss the point.
The British Empire was a terrible mistake; one that caused suffering for millions and allowed us to commit numerous atrocities. That should never be denied. The irony of it is, the people who talk about Great Britain and the Empire forget that the countries we colonised did not benefit from us. We benefitted from them. Empires are built through invasion, through conflict and they hide the damage they do behind a lie of the greater good. It is because of the resources that we stole that our small island has been able to endure so much.
In building our Empire, we took the role of the father that thinks strength and violence are the same thing. In doing so, we treated our family the same way those men do. We have an opportunity to be something now; something better. Brexit will be difficult and will cause hardship for many on our shores, and that’s why our next family, and the way we treat them will be more important than ever before.
Tom Huggins-Teasdale is a Political Correspondent for immigrationnews.co.uk, a website dedicated to highlighting immigration injustice and news.