Which way will the wave break? Normandy beach or Chesil? Do modern British tribes have Spanish sangria flowing through their veins? A will of German steel? Fingers of Belgian chocolate and hearts of French St Gobain glass? A thirst for Athenian democracy and a taste for Italy? In short, yes. So what is this nonsense about calling the whole thing off with Europe?
‘But we’re different. We’re not like those continentals. Our historical destiny is not the same.’
Yes, it is and yes we are. Try mooring the British Isles in the Persian Gulf and then speak with narcissism of your minor differences vis-à-vis our European brethren. With Saudi Arabia and Iran as your new neighbours, the British naysayers will soon appreciate that what unites them with France, Portugal, Poland and Denmark, is far greater than what divides them.
Britain’s historical legacy is so wrapped up with the larger mass of land to the south to be ridiculous. The earliest trace of proto-Europeans from the Pleistocene epoch 800,000 y.a arrived in a drier, cooler Britain from, yes you guessed it, Europe. Cro-Magnons, the modern prototype of the European, crossed the dry seabed 40,000 y.a from, ja you guessed it, Europe. 2,500 y.a, Celts sailed the East Atlantic seaboard, to Britain, returning to resettle Brittany at the fall of the Roman empire. Let us think about this one, but not too taxingly. Oui, again Europe. The Celtic mystique we inherited from them was a gift from….drumroll… Europe. Ultimately…Ultimativ…En fin de compte…Por Ultimo…Ostatecznie. In however way you express it, from whichever angle you frame it, it all comes back to the same shit, the same progenitor.
Then came the next infusion of DNA into the increasingly fissiparous bloodline: the German tribes. That split things. Successive boatloads of prospectors as well as a few bona fide refugees from the post-Roman chaos added another European base metal into the British cast. Jutes, Angles, Frisians, Saxons, they all settled the fertile British Isles, pushing the previous incumbents, the tragic and heroic Romano-Celts into a brave last stand in the remote, rugged West under the mythic construct known by Monty Python as Arthur, King of the Britons. Arthur, was another gift from Europe, by the by, this time courtesy of that thoughtful, proto-European French minstrel, Chretien de Troyes. Don’t even mention the royal ascent. Catalysts of our great nation’s selfhood – from Richard the Lionheart to Electors of Hanover and even a young Queen Victoria – spoke the old lingo none too well, by all accounts.
My country is at this moment playing catch with a live hand grenade. You know that girl you lost and never quite got over? We called it the British empire. For a while the creeping of the fingers over the body of the world felt good. We were wanted. Playing the great game with some aplomb. But, to paraphrase Lord Palmerston, the no eternal allies and no perpetual enemies epoch is gone. Isolation is anything but splendid in 2016. Our distant past was with Europe, our recent empire was with everyone, our present is in Europe, our future is of Europe.
Lay your ghosts to rest and hear what the current crop of sages have to say. 90% are backing EU reform from within. They’ve been camping enough to know that it’s better to be inside the tent pissing out than outside pissng in. The smart money is on continuity and pan-Europeanism to counteract mutually destructive forces embedded in nationalism. Narrow-minded ruritarians with nothing to gain bark ‘out’. And do not be fooled by thirty miles of shallow, turbid water. A slip of a channel between us and them, geographically-speaking, is liable to dry to baked mud quicker than your eternity of lonesomeness and island-thinking. And then, when you’re walking home, south to Calais on a freezing day where icicles awaken from inter-glacial dormancy, you’ll remember where it was you came from all those geological days ago. So, we grow old together or we grow old apart. Whichever way the wave breaks, everything old enters a state of decline together. Grow old and fractious, or old and in harmony? That is the question.
John Bull didn’t want to drown when I saw him bathing in the Indian Ocean tonight. He washed the dust from his prodigious body and then headed for the homeland, the surface on which he may live unhindered, not the mid-Atlantic obscurity you tragically desire.
And by the way, if the majority opts out, the Scots will find themselves with new and abiding reasons to leave. Watch the north go. And then what? King’s Landing?
John Bull, you know nothing.
Image courtesy of trespasserine (copr. 2016 trespasserine)