At this time of night, I like to admire this picture of former Mayor of London Boris Johnson stuck on a zip wire. pic.twitter.com/9zRZD2vFps
— Gary Brannan (@garybrannan) May 7, 2016
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“Great Britain is dead. Long live Little England,” shouted the isolationist in one of the most isolated years in modern human history.
“What does it matter” shouted the lonely man with a mask and The Mirror whilst reading his horoscope, sifting for belly button lint to keep him warm when he wasn’t begging for a schilling or two.
“Wake up, dis a di end” countered a Jamaican woman on her stoop as the flag of the Commonwealth waved relentlessly over Marlborough House in cold, dark, dank London.
“No time for a barney, COVID is enough,” shouted an old woman from her window above.
What’s all this raucous about and what does it have to do with us?
In June 2016, the same year that populist authoritarians were sneaking into the White House and the American mind, the people of the United Kingdom voted by referendum to leave the European Union, now widely known as Brexit.
As 2020 came to a close, an agreement between the United Kingdom and the European Union was finally reached on the terms of Britain’s exit from the Union, a little more than four years after the referendum.
With Brexit finalized in January 2021, the words of the famous English writer and poet, John Donne, sank into the depths of the English Channel. His solemn 400-year-old poem against isolationism gasped for air.
“No man is an island, entire of itself; every man is a piece of the continent, a part of the main; if a clod be washed away by the sea, Europe is the less, as well as if a promontory were, as well as if a manor of thy friend’s or of thine own were; any man’s death diminishes me, because I am involved in mankind, and therefore never send to know for whom the bell tolls; it tolls for thee.” ~ excerpt from Meditation 17 by John Donne, 1623
Nearly 400 years after Donne’s words were written the wake began, rippling across the Atlantic to the shores of American disunity. As Donne’s words descend into the watery abyss, they desperately gasp for one last breath before falling like Rome, isolated and alone, into the muck.
Little England’s abandonment of interdependence—the belief that we all require help, that no one is self-sufficient, and everyone relies on others to survive is a blow to the ideas that have underpinned the United Kingdom for nearly three centuries as well as European integration from the 1957 Treaty of Rome to the 1992 Maastricht Treaty.
What has Little England achieved?
Boris Johnson and Pro-Brexiteers have achieved an extraordinarily small-minded vision for Little Englanders who have clearly forgotten their history and raison d’etre for their own historical union. Somehow it has been lost on the nation that long-term peace and stability within the United Kingdom and Europe have been contingent on political and economic integration between nations. The lesson of interdependence wrought from the blood-filled death fields of WWII made it clear.
The vision for the United States of Europe sprung from WWII and was fostered and funded by the United States through the Marshall Plan. Although the United States of Europe has not yet been realized, the European Union has been the engine behind deeper political and economic integration.
Leaders across the Continent and beyond understood that deeper ties amongst open societies create greater resilience thereby allowing both democratic nations and capitalist economies to thrive while reducing the likelihood of war.
Instead of acknowledging this shared history, Pro-Brexiteeres joined hands with Luddites and celebrated in the tiniest pubs on the smallest streets of Little England.
Now, Pro-Brexit strategists are tossing and turning in their cold, wet confined flats to ensure that their movement of small-minded right-wing nationalists achieves the smallest vision possible for the littlest England imaginable.
Here’s the logical trajectory of their small-minded nationalism, tongue-in-cheek with a side of reality, of course:
1. Scotland withdraws from the 1707 Act of Union to become a sovereign, independent nation and rejoins the E.U. Scotland finally achieves the vision of Sir William Wallace and is no longer associated with the English crown.
2. The Government of Ireland Act 1920 is abolished and Northern Ireland reunites with the motherland, Ireland. English oppression of the Irish finally comes to an end, the Emerald Island is restored, and the snakes leave Belfast for London.
3. Wales, the smallest and weakest of the four, decides to abolish the Laws in Wales Acts enacted by Henry VIII, Boris Johnson’s contemporary, and also departs the United Kingdom. The Welsh ask Charles, Prince of Wales to return to rule their lands knowing full well that he is exhausted waiting to become King of Little England.
4. Pro-Brexiteers build a new version of Hadrian’s Wall around the City of London and Canary Wharf and advocate for the rest of Little England to return to feudal rule with the goal of making Little England Great Again!
5. The Commonwealth is dissolved and all members regain full sovereignty from Little England. Bangladeshis and Indians are imported to pick potatoes for Little England’s new feudal Lords in the financial districts whilst the Bulgarians and Romanians are sent back to the mainland. Little England demands the cheapest labor possible in the name of former Prime Minister, Margaret Thatcher.
6. The Monarchy is finally abolished. Why shovel feudal funds to the Queen when it can go to those behind pro-Brexiteers’ tremendously, fabulous, and extraordinarily well built 21st C. Hadrian’s Wall in the financial districts? Ironically, while pursuing global trade and financial interdependence.
It’s clear that Brexit wasn’t actually thought through very well, if at all. The populist trend toward devolution and dissolution didn’t require it. Just feed the rabid, small-minded mobs bland bread, blame Europe and immigrants for all that ails, and then disseminate as much propaganda to undermine Western integration while being aided and abetted by Russia so that Vladimir Putin can chalk up another win. Sound familiar? It should. It’s from the same playbook used by America’s sorest loser and worst President in history, Donald J. Trump.
The Western liberal world order is deeply rooted in the causes of freedom, liberty, equality, and democratic governance and it’s under threat. The authoritarian threat lurks beyond our shores and within our lands. It seeks to tear us asunder, to sink our hopes, to drown our ideals, and leave us shouting at each other in disunity on the streets.
Diversity is our strength, interdependence is resilience, and the future of America and Western democracy requires us to learn the lesson of 2020—we are all one, on a single planet where no one is an island unto themself.
Brexit is a warning—a shot across the bow of humanity’s ship as well as that of the Transatlantic Alliance between Europe and the United States—the aim of which has been to defend democracy while ensuring our collective peace and security. The perpetrators are the same as those behind the Nazi regime, right-wing nationalist authoritarians who seek to dismantle the institutional systems that guarantee our freedoms and open societies.
As this sordid, dark chapter in American and European history unfolds, shouting “what does it matter” won’t work. We must remain vigilant. We must speak up. We must vote. And, we must never forget the words of one of our most famous poets, Henry Wadsworth Longfellow, lest we find ourselves on a similar trajectory to that of Little England.
“All your strength is in your union All your danger is in discord; Therefore be at peace henceforward, And as brothers live together.”