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'Rule Britannia' rhetoric can't redeem baleful Brexit



During the Olympics, the BBC and other broadcasters were even more jingoistic than usual about 'Team GB' and its haul of medals. On the international political scene, 'Team GB', the unelected government of Theresa May, is doing less well.

Shaved-headed English nationalist gives finger to departing EU. Cartoon by Chris JohnstonMatteo Renzi, the Italian prime minister who could hold the EU Presidency if May triggers Article 50 to begin the Brexit negotiations next year, is the latest of a string of EU and European parliamentary representatives to put the kybosh on the government's optimism about staying in the EU single market while not signing up to freedom of movement. As Renzi said, the EU cannot give more rights to a member which is leaving than to those who stay.

Dr Liam Fox, May's hawkish international trade secretary, said on the same day as Renzi's interview that the UK would become an independent member of the World Trade Organisation (WTO) as opposed to being represented by the EU and would comply with its tariffs and rules and thus carry 'the standard of free and open trade as a badge of honour'.

He seems to forget that the world is nowadays divided into regional economic groupings with their own rules and even allies such as the US have doubts about any quick special deals for a post-Brexit UK.

Such is the 'Rule Britannia' rhetoric after the English and Welsh decided to vote to leave the EU, dragging with them Scotland and Northern Ireland, the two domestic nations which voted — in Scotland's case overwhelmingly — to remain in. It is a rhetoric that ushers in an era of the rise of English nationalism.

For Scotland particularly, the exit from the EU will have devastating consequences. We know from a recent Fraser of Allander Institute report on the Scottish economy that the country will suffer budget cuts of over £1.6 billion over the next four years because of Brexit.

That will mean less spending on public services which will lead down the line to more poverty and failed targets to close, for example, the attainment gap in schools between kids in more affluent and more deprived areas.

The National Health Service that has kept the working class healthy for decades is already struggling to cope with an ageing population and we still in the Glasgow area have some of the worst health statistics in Western Europe, a legacy of Margaret Thatcher. With cuts in public expenditure, the NHS is unsustainable, leading no doubt to the neoliberal agenda of privatisation of health provision.


"I, frankly, feel more at home in the European Union than in the British one, especially now when there has been a huge increase in xenophobic attacks on other Europeans and even British-born people of colour."


While the economic and social cost of Brexit will be huge, especially for Scotland, we must remember there is also an affective cost for those of us who feel European. As an undergraduate, I studied for a year in Germany, speak five European languages besides English, have lived for lengthy periods in various European countries, and have visited either for work or pleasure nearly every other European country. I rejoice in the diversity of languages, culture, food, scenery and history displayed before you in countries within a few hundred kilometres of each other.

I, frankly, feel more at home in the European Union than in the British one, especially now when there has been a huge increase in xenophobic attacks on other Europeans and even British-born people of colour. It is not so much 'British' of course as 'English'. While Police Scotland logged no increase in hate crime since Brexit, its English/Welsh equivalent reported a 42 per cent increase. The irony is that the ageing population of all parts of the UK are often looked after in hospitals and care homes by the very people who have been attacked — and who may be expelled after Brexit happens. This is what English nationalism looks like and it is pretty brutish.

The new situation was rammed home to me in a recent trip to a conference in Salamanca, where there is a Scottish seminary, and Madrid, where I have Spanish friends. Everyone I met was shocked at the news and it was as if there had been a death in the family. On the flight back to Edinburgh, it became clear to me that the Brexiteers were about to take my European nationality away from me and replace it with a Little Englander mentality that sees foreigners through a prism of otherness, both in their own country as well as overseas, and themselves as superior.

In post-Brexit UK, this attitude will be compounded by the right-wing agenda of a Conservative party which may be in power for the next 20 years given the chaos in the Labour Party and there will be no social democratic policies coming from the EU to mitigate the effects of a xenophobic neoliberalism. That is not the kind of Union, or state, I want either to live in or to be part of.


Duncan MacLarenDuncan MacLaren is an Adjunct Professor of Australian Catholic University and a PhD candidate in theology at the University of Glasgow.

Original artwork by Chris Johnston

Topic tags: Duncan Maclaren, Brexit, Scotland



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Existing comments

This is a scary reading and I do not doubt it for one moment. The nationalism the EU was set up to prevent will become more and more strident, especially as economic conditions deteriorate. Pluralism will be no match for the nasty embodiments of 'me before you', and at all costs - even our humanity. This is what Rowan Williams might describe as 'a breakdown in the body politic'. Witness a similar disintegration of public and political order in America and the Trump presidential fiasco just now. The ramifications for us all are deeply concerning.

Fiona Winn | 10 October 2016  

It’s ok, the sun is still shining. Move to any European country if this will make you happy and as the Pope says be joyful.

Jane | 10 October 2016  

The insularity that may result from the Brexit decision goes against the powerful and prophetic plea made by Pope Francis in Laudato Si for governments and individuals to work together.

margaret | 10 October 2016  

Now is the time for Scotland to go for independence, finally. The English are unlikely to send in the troops, and Scotland can resume its rightful place as a proud, outward-looking country within the EU.

Peter Downie | 10 October 2016  

Asking a Belgian friend about Brexit elicited a snort, followed by a comment along the lines of "good riddance - they never really wanted to be part of the EU, anyway." I put this Belgian lady's comments to an English friend, who was genuinely surprised by them. Not all English folks are xenophobic bigots, but I get the impression that many of my English friends don't realise how much damage has been caused to the UK's reputation by those who are.

David Healy | 10 October 2016  

Maybe it is not entirely xenophobic or a sense of superiority that moved England and Wales to support Brexit. Perhaps it had a lot to do with reclaiming their cultural identity. When I lived in England as an Australian raised with the Irish disaffection of everything English, it was quite an eye-opener to find the extraordinary tolerance of others that the English on the whole possessed. No surprise either to find that Scotland and N Ireland did not support Brexit. After all, neither has contributed much of value to GB, both have depended on England, clinging like limpets in order to survive economically while yapping away at the heels of their benefactor. Neither has shown the maturity to bury ancient hatreds and continue to bear malice particularly well, almost as an art form. It told a worrying tale for the English people recently when the quintessential English TV classic, Midsummer Murders, was accused of being too English with its beautiful garden villages and typical English stereotypes and directed to cast more black-skinned people and European origin characters in its stories. The result has destroyed the very nature of the series which has become more like the garbage the American TV networks throw up. Good on the Brexits if they manage to restore England and good luck to the Scots and Irish who might at last have get off their backsides and do something for themselves as a change. I suspect my ancestry will be turning in their graves if they see this comment today and that the Scots and Irish will come out fighting as is their standard, mindles approach to any affront !!!

john frawley | 10 October 2016  

Well said John Frawley! Despite my Irish/French DNA I too find the English to be remarkably open and generous people. To describe them as xenophobes and racists because they expressed their often defended democratic right to leave the EU is rather unfair and very simplistic.

Martin Loney | 10 October 2016  

Great article, and reminds us never to do this to Australia. The temptations to still have the white Australia policy, is alive and well.

marlene | 10 October 2016  

England (since it is mainly the English who make the big decisions) is an Island, and its people (like Australians), tend to have insular attitudes. While applauding democracy, which really implies proportional representation and treatment, it seems the old ‘divine right of Kings’ has been transferred to narrow majorities as in the Brexit vote, even in Australia’s case to a majority of one vote, though in our case this represents less than 1per cent of the mind of the parliament. Unity but not uniformity needs to be sought for a desired United Europe. England is very different, in many ways to the Continental countries, and differences need to be allowed for, and incorporated.in agreements and unions.

Robert Liddy | 10 October 2016  

Parhaps a closer look at the Monarchy, the peerage and the class structure in the UK might be timely. The UK is top heavy with an arcane aristocracy that should be abolished. My catholic ancestors were financially destroyed by the Tudors at the whim of a murderous madman who later set the Anglican faith in stone. The Queen is still our head of State. She should not be. Brexit will be good for trade for this country as it will open up markets closed since 1973. Feelings and sentimentality have nothing to do with it.

francis Armstrong | 10 October 2016  

It is all rather ironic. The British grabbed as much as they could of the world as colonies for the glory and benefit of the motherland and now they want to prevent the same being visited upon themselves.

Benjamin Pittman | 10 October 2016  

It is a very scary proposition if england is to fall into even deeper xenophobia & doesn't bode well either for the "me too"/politics of the national/ liberal party & their gal pal Pauline our world could fall down a rabbit hole that will take decades to fix (&let's not forget about the trump factor)

sue clegg | 10 October 2016  

Westminster has never been good at federating, either internally (the increasingly less United Kingdom) or externally (the increasingly confederating European Union). The 'sovereignty' (read dominance at home and independence abroad) of an English-dominated Parliament has been sacrosanct. Having 'solved' the problems of accommodating diversity by absorbing first Scotland and then Ireland, it is scared stiff of being 'absorbed' by any other entity which it cannot dominate. 'Exotic' difference is tolerated so long as it remains small and deferential and never seeks to seriously question the status quo. Which is sad because it makes it more difficult for the English (who I love) to understand and empathise with 'the other', whether they be Scots, Irish, German, or Australian.

Ginger Meggs | 10 October 2016  

I think you are, as usual, plugging that old Scottish anti-Sassenach line. I think many English people would be happy if Scotland went its own way taking their fair share of the GB National Debt with them.

Edward Fido | 10 October 2016  

Nationalist movements encouraged by some Scots, Irish and Welsh, frequently assert the desperate necessity for sovereignty and independence—the need to be freed from the “Little Englander nightmare” as one Scottish nationalist put it before the 2014 referendum. If true, fair enough! Yet when the English vote against the unelected and overbearing Brussels bureaucrats trashing their freedoms, this is labelled as the “rise of English nationalism”, “Rule Britannia rhetoric”, and still, “Little Englander mentality.” Scotland, with its bloated dead-end dependency culture, reminds one of Greece. It was the Panhellenic Socialist Movement that falsified Greece’s application to enter the Eurozone in 2001. Now they are prisoners of Germany’s austerity measures which are killing Greece. The Brussels bureaucrats turned a blind eye to Greece’s unofficial economy while seeking to drag in members for their quasi-imperial expansion. Brussels bureaucrats strutting from conference to dinner party, remind one of Versailles courtiers, totally ignorant of the restless masses. The EU is a shrinking trade block with shrinking, ageing native populations. No welfare state pension and health care system can support such inverted population pyramids. It was a Scotsman, Alexander Tyler, who predicted over two hundred years ago, how the welfare state would lead to serfdom.

Ross Howard | 10 October 2016  

Two hundred years ago. What foresight, or maybe he was just an old libertarian who still may be wrong. Who knows where the survival of the fittest libertarian mentality will have us in two hundred years if we are all left to fend for ourselves, individually? Not one area of Scotland voted for Brexit. That should give some indication that the anti-EU sentiment is pretty much south of the border. Majority rules so fair enough and maybe the English would be better off going it alone without the annoying Europeans or Scots. But let's not trash the EU completely with caricatures about strutting to dinner parties and quasi empire building. Cute word pictures perhaps but totally inaccurate descriptions of the hardworking and responsible EU public servants and officials I worked with over many years who recognised the clear advantages to Europe of free EU trade and the movement of people between countries. Even England has benefitted from this. There are problems, of course there are, but let's not throw every bit of rubbish at the EU simply because it exists.

Brett | 11 October 2016  

I worry about the rise of racial division in England, post Brexit and what this might mean for the safety of my son and his family who live. I wonder too what future my grandsons will have. My son and his wife have contributed to British society, worked, paid taxes, taught in British schools raised their children. What now, post Brexit.

Godfrey | 12 October 2016  

In or out? I don't know. But after repeated viewing, the brilliant, superbly drawn cartoon still makes me laugh out loud. Says it all really. What a blast!

Gordon Rowland | 14 October 2016  

18 comments and little or no reference how the Exit vote in Brexit won. I would say one main factor was that the Stay vote was pathetic (both rationally and emotionally). In an electorate where voting is not compulsory, a campaign of fear will always trump a campaign of promise. The English Fourth Estate treated the Brexit campaign as a game show. The mass media have a lot to answer for. Politicians of the centre right and the centre left might have to dare to think big and examine the possibility of a Grand Coalition of the kind that Germany under Kiesinger had from 1966 - 1969. Political scientists and sociologists should come down from their Ivory Towers and become prophets in the market place of ideas. Shock jocks and the tabloid press need be exposed for what they are - parasites on the common weal.

Uncle Pat | 14 October 2016  

Free trade can exist without open borders. The EU's idea of free trade between its members is good economics. The EU's idea of free flow of worker-residents between its members is social engineering.

Roy Chen Yee | 18 October 2016  

Roy, care to explain how the free movement of people between EU member states is social engineering? It has worked well for EU members, including the UK, given the number of Brits working on the Continent. Or is it just a variation of the old "political correctness gone mad" line so often used by conservatives?

Brett | 20 October 2016  

Brett: "Roy, care to explain how the free movement of people between EU member states is social engineering?" "Free movement of people", as in tourists? Nothing wrong with that. Students? Again, nothing wrong, although it may be pointed out that both tourists and students are subject to work restrictions, meaning that 'free' as far as movement goes is actually conditional. Is there some reason why 'worker-residents' was replaced by what looks like the straw man 'people' or is the Left just incapable (whether in EU matters or that hoary same-sex 'marriage' social albatross of an issue) of seeing things as they are? Anyway, in answer to your 'question', all politics is local. If the benefit to Britons capable of working internationally is a cost to the locals who have to stay home to keep the Britishness in Britain going, the two have to be balanced and obviously large numbers of locals in England (the powerhouse of the UK) felt from personal experience that the balance was wrong. If you wish to argue that the feelings of these people do not match reality, well, welcome to the irony of life apparent from the different Eureka blogs in which (depending on the issue) what is reality to one person is merely a feeling to another.

Roy Chen Yee | 21 October 2016  

Roy, you’re the one who said “The EU's idea of free flow of worker-residents between its members is social engineering”. All I did was ask you to explain it, which you didn’t do in your last message. You could be splitting hairs on your straw man because the last time I looked, “worker-residents” were people. Was it social engineering when I moved from Sydney to Melbourne and then to Canberra in my job? This is no different from the free movement of people (okay, “worker-residents”, there is no hidden agenda here) between EU Member States. I don't think I was socially engineered, whatever that phrase is supposed to mean – you haven’t explained it. I suspect it is one of those terms used by opponents of something when they don’t have a good reason to oppose it. The benefit balance in the EU weighs heavily in favour of free movement. England voted to leave the EU and that’s fair enough, but just maybe another couple of generations of free movement between Member States might have improved the Britishness in Britain!

Brett | 21 October 2016  

"6. (1) Every citizen of Canada has the right to enter, remain in and leave Canada. (2) Every citizen of Canada and every person who has the status of a permanent resident of Canada has the right a) to move to and take up residence in any province; and b) to pursue the gaining of a livelihood in any province. ....(4) Subsections (2) and (3) do not preclude any law, program or activity that has as its object the amelioration in a province of conditions of individuals in that province who are socially or economically disadvantaged if the rate of employment in that province is below the rate of employment in Canada." Brett, freedom of movement is a privilege that depends on not causing harm to locals, at least according to Canadians in their Charter of Rights and Freedoms. We don't have laws like that in Australia but that's not to say the need will never arise. Your notion that freedom of movement to take up local jobs is an absolute good is only a hypothesis. Whether it's true depends on proof. The social engineering lies in not realising that an ideological canon of truth is only a hypothesis.

Roy Chen Yee | 24 October 2016  

Please don’t verbal me or exaggerate my comments Roy or we'll be going on forever. I never said the freedom of movement within the EU or Australia for that matter was an “absolute good”. I generally don’t go for absolutes. My point is the benefits of free movement outweigh the negatives, which is clearly not the same thing. You are the one who called it social engineering and you have not backed it up with your subsequent messages. If you can’t do it, that’s fine, we can let the matter drop. Going back to your message of 18 October, you could have made a better case for “social engineering” with your “good economics” free trade between EU members if it causes job losses and business closures (with the harm to locals that seems to concern you so much) in particular countries or regions within countries. I don’t agree with that thought either, I’m just saying you could make a better case for it.

Brett | 25 October 2016  

"Please don’t verbal me or exaggerate my comments Roy or we'll be going on forever." We may have to go on forever as the Eureka moderator prefers 200 word posts and precious words have to be wasted pointing out some irrelevancies and straw men (now, two, btw). To get to details: "splitting hairs on your straw man because the last time I looked, “worker-residents” were people." No, "worker-residents" are economic migrants, which is not the same as locals free to travel through their country in search of work (which freedom, incidentally, being something the Canadians do not take for granted as an absolute good, makes your personal example irrelevant). "The benefit balance in the EU weighs heavily in favour of free movement." No, the issue is whether the benefit balance in most of England and Wales weighs heavily in favour of free movement, because most people expect quite reasonably to prosper in the places where they are settled. Of course, the balance works well in Eastern Europe because migrant workers can send home their remittances, but the same thing can be achieved by free trade where lower wages in Eastern Europe make them more competitive in certain industries.

Roy Chen Yee | 28 October 2016  

You did exaggerate my views Roy; I never claimed free movement between EU member states was an “absolute good”. I thought I made that clear, they are your words, your own straw man. Read my messages again if you doubt me. You also misrepresent the Canadian position, based on your interpretation of the quote in your 24 October post. There is no obligation on the Canadian Government to restrict the free internal movement of its citizens based on economic considerations. Definite overreach there, but as we are discussing free movement within the EU’s borders, not Canada, much of what you write is irrelevant to the point. You are right, many English people will feel better when European access to the English jobs market is blocked, if that eventuates. The reverse will also be true. That feeling does not detract from the value of free movement and it wasn't your first point either. Your initial claim which I queried was the free movement of “worker-residents” (they are people Roy) in the EU is social engineering. Three messages now and you have shown nothing to back it up.

Brett | 28 October 2016  

Let’s get through this by single-point posts. 1. “Worker-residents” are people in the same way as domestic cats and pumas are felines. Does it not make a difference that a puma is strolling through your backyard instead of a household cat? Students come, spend exogenous money and leave. Tourists come, spend exogenous money and leave. “Worker-residents” are economic migrants. They compete for jobs with the locals and come to stay, although not always for the long term. Yes, they spend money locally but they may be depriving some local of a job. And they remove endogenous money from the economy by way of remittances overseas. 2. If you say “The benefit balance in the EU weighs heavily in favour of free movement" when the issue is whether the benefit balance in most of England and Wales weighs heavily in favour of free movement, you’re applying the wrong test and imposing the belief that what is good for the EU is good for England and Wales. That’s an absolute because, in the absence of proof, what you have left is faith. It also becomes social engineering when it is insisted that people who disagree with the faith must be xenophobes.

Roy Chen Yee | 01 November 2016  

Let’s be clear Roy and leave out the irrelevant cats and the xenophobia. The issue is your comment of 18 October that the “EU's idea of free flow of worker-residents between its members is social engineering”. In your mind “social engineering” doesn’t apply to movements within national borders, only internationally. Moving from Sydney to Melbourne for work is irrelevant (your comment of 28 October). The same would therefore apply to movements within EU members from Cologne to Stuttgart, or Marseilles to Paris, or Manchester to Liverpool. But apparently movements Manchester to Cologne, or Marseilles to Liverpool etc may lead to "social engineering". Presumably moving from Belfast to London will not lead to “social engineering” but moving from Dublin to London will. You can see the nonsense here. This isn’t about faith Roy; there is simply no logical basis for selectively calling some movements “social engineering”. I’m still surprised you don’t see the general benefits of free movement of EU citizens within a free economic zone like the EU yet you are all for free trade within the EU, which itself can lead to job losses and business closures in some regions. Surely that also contributes to “social engineering”.

Brett | 02 November 2016  

What is it about a simple idea (1. when a foreigner comes into your economy to take a job that you or one of your fellow citizens could have filled; 2. you express scepticism about letting citizens of other nations enter your economy willy-nilly to take jobs; and 3. you’re told you’re a xenophobe for thinking like this) that you don’t understand? “leave out the irrelevant cats and the xenophobia”? That would be like leaving oxygen out of breathing. Those are the points. As for “There is no obligation on the Canadian Government to restrict the free internal movement of its citizens based on economic considerations. Definite overreach there, but as we are discussing free movement within the EU’s borders, not Canada, much of what you write is irrelevant to the point”, 1. It’s about giving a provincial (not federal) government the liberty (not the obligation) “to create programs that favour its own residents” (Canadian government booklet on the web) 2. Under Canada’s new free trade agreement with the EU, 500 million Europeans are allowed to waltz into the Canadian job market? No. 36 million Canadians the other way? No. Free trade without free movement? Apparently so.

Roy Chen Yee | 06 November 2016  

Roy, I was prepared to put your “social engineering” comment down to careless generalisation and let this drop, but I have to be clear about something: I have not called you a xenophobe, or any other derogatory name in the context of this discussion. You are the person raising that red herring and even as a generalisation it has little to do with “social engineering”. It is possible to discuss different ideas without making it personal. With Canada as I understand it, governments can act in certain situations but there is no obligation to do so. Simple as that, but again it isn’t relevant to your original point that free movement of worker-residents (people) in the EU is social engineering but free trade within the EU, which can have the same consequences for regional employment, is just “good economics”. All I asked you to do was back up your generalisation. You have not done so. The exaggerated movement numbers in your last couple of sentences are more red herrings. We are discussing free movement within an economic union. Last time I looked Canada was not a member state of the EU.

Brett | 07 November 2016  

What is your line of argument? That anyone in a free trade zone which includes Australia can waltz into Australia and compete with locals for jobs? "Last time I looked Canada was not a member state of the EU." I was actually wondering whether your response would contain this line. If so, you'd either have to be deliberately obtuse (ie. debating in bad faith) or sincere but stuck in some kind of agnosia. No, Canada isn't a member of the EU, but a free trade zone is a free trade zone and what Canada has is what the Brexiteers want: free trade (or a free trade zone) without open borders. What on earth is so hard to understand about this? As for the straw man, I've never accused you of calling me a xenophobe but check the media: people are calling the Brexiteers xenophobic. Personally, I'd be very happy if all of Poland migrated to the UK to re-establish Catholicism as the state religion, flood Eire to return it to its pre-same sex marriage referendum sanity, and then come here as subsidised £10 migrants to rejuvenate what is now the Great Wasteland of the Holy Spirit.

Roy Chen Yee | 07 November 2016  

What is my line of argument? This must be getting tedious for others but I’ll explain once more. On 18 October you wrote “The EU’s idea of free flow of worker-residents between its members is social engineering”. I see value in free movement of workers between member states of the EU, so I asked you to explain why it is “social engineering” which in the context of your sentence is not a positive. You wrote many words and exaggerated irrelevant arguments but have not addressed the core issue of how it is social engineering. Is it because migrant workers can take jobs from local citizens (not necessarily always the case)? Free trade can also cause job losses but you call that “good economics”. Is it because different cultures are coming into a community? Cultural diversity can bring benefits to societies. So what is it Roy? You may have anticipated my Canada comment, but that does not reduce its relevance nor justify your mistaken assessments of my motives. Free trade agreements don’t necessarily include free movement of people (sorry, worker-residents). Movements between the EU and Canada are not in the same category as intra-EU movements but Canadians with the right skills can still work in the EU (and vice versa). Social engineering? I seriously doubt it. This is not about Brexit either. The English voted and things will take their course. I’m asking you Roy to justify your statement. Sorry to go over the word limit; I will own up to the sin of long-windedness.

Brett | 08 November 2016  

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