At last I hear many of you say, the Article 50 process demanded by the Lisbon Treaty that allows a country to begin the formal process of leaving the European Union is now underway or in other words, the starting gun has now been fired for what we are told will be two years of hard Brexit negotiations.
The contents of the letter written by the Prime Minister to European Council president Donald Tusk and that are about to be delivered to him personally by the UK ambassador to the EU, Sir Tim Barrow, have not yet been disclosed but press and media apart who will no doubt seek to search for words to hang on the Prime Minister’s head, most of us will simply use our common sense and imagine what Mrs. May said in her letter to Mr. Tusk.
What’s done is done and right or wrong, sensible or stupid, be in no doubt that we all have to live with the consequences of what will emerge. Thereby hangs the problem – Britain still remains very divided on the issue of leaving the EU!
I hate to use the term ‘funny thing’ but the majority of people that I know are in reality still trying to get over the shock of last year’s referendum vote. And was put to me yesterday, one of the problems is that a large number of people in our islands are not yet reconciled to the action that is about to start. True enough and the trouble is that resistance to the vote is quiet and rather below the horizon if you like, most probably because it has become rather unfashionable to speak out.
It is also true that there are many, particularly within industry and those from other members of the EU who work and live in Britain. Understandably, some of these people live in fear about the process that is about to start and they listen to the Prime Minister’s calls for unity and to ‘come together’ wonder what it is that they did wrong and that led to this? Yes, leaving the leader of the Scottish Parliament aside, “we are one great Union of people in the UK” as Mrs May has said and we are also “a nation with a proud history and bright future”. Sometimes I think we are a little too proud of ourselves and we forget too easily that the world no longer owes us a living.
For all that, it is leadership that will take us through this amazing round of change and I am not about to argue that Mrs. May has what it takes to pull all this off. I do not envy the task but I also hope that in saying all that she has that she also understands that while many cannot wait for the day that we are out and almost equal number have doubts and are living in fear.
Winston Churchill made great speeches during the second- world war and he continued to so do in the six year period of opposition before he came back for a second term. It may not have been Churchill who was the founding father of the then Common Market but it was Churchill who made the loudest call for a ‘United States of Europe’ in 1946.
As one of my most regular and much appreciated correspondents was won’t to say yesterday, “He [Churchill] understood the mood of the people, believed deeply in the cause and when he used fighting rhetoric, you would recognize that this man had tasted the dangers of the battlefield and understood that to never surrender meant to never surrender because the alternative was so horrible”.
Churchill called for unity in 1940 and could not have had a better response. He called for unity again in 1945 when the war with Germany had ended and look where that got him – six years as Leader of Her Majesty’s Opposition”. Shortly afterwards you will remember that the King sort to bestow the highest honour on Churchill, the Order of the Garter. Churchill declined [although he did later accept when this was offered by Her Majesty, Queen Elizabeth ll in 1953] with the infamous words ‘how can I accept the Order of the Garter, when the people of Britain have just given me the Order of the Boot?”
As my correspondent points out, Churchill was able to call for unity in 1940 because the cause was indeed truly common and the vast majority of people understood it and related to it. It is not Mrs. May’s fault that calling for unity now is, particularly to those persuaded that the decision to leave the EU was unquestionably the right one, is without a clear and present threat that drives people together. There is of course a view that what Britain is about to go through over the next two years is a ‘manufactured’ crisis of its own making. Harsh perhaps but probably true.
On speaking to being “one great union of people” Mrs. May conveniently skirts round the new ogre of the glens in the form of Nicola Sturgeon and whose purpose in calling for a second referendum vote appears to me to be nothing more than self-interest rather than calling for what might be best for Scotland at this time. As my correspondent correctly points out, the SNP Leader and First Minister of Scotland might just about to be able to lay stronger claim to calling for unity of her people on the basis of national aspiration. Trouble is that what she aspires too is not necessarily what a majority of the Scottish people believe.
Whatever, and notwithstanding my personal view that having made our bed, we must now lie on it and go ahead with plans to leave the EU which, having come this far, I will fully support, there can be little doubt that we are at this time a nation divided across a variety of fault lines. Yes, we do owe Mrs. May our support – governments are elected and referendum results cannot be turned around or ignored. Trouble is that outside of times of war, calling for unity and backing the Government no matter what the colour may be strikes that rather awkward nerve, in this case, of those opposed to leaving the EU.
While ‘remainers’ are unlikely to be silenced what we must avoid in the ongoing leave negotiation process is for anyone to denounced those opposed to the policy being pursued by the Government as being undemocratic or unpatriotic. Credibility in this instance is earned by telling more of the truth than less. Messrs. Cameron and Osborne had their turn and they failed because they created fear and they attempted to alarm, and they paid the price for failure – by the way, I wish Mr. Osborne well as Editor of the Evening Standard, a newspaper that I believe he will ensure that truth remains is the basis of good journalism. As to Mr. Cameron being tipped to be the next NATO Secretary General, all that I can say is that the last thing NATO wants as its chief is a PR man.
Arguably, on the matter of decision, may have been for Mrs. May to say that she understands that division exists and to have better fielded reasons as to why she advocates this way ahead. Either way, I suspect she would risk falling foul of the propaganda argument. As my most interesting correspondent pointed out though, “division that is the real enemy of the United Kingdom”.
CHW (London – 29th March 2017)
Howard Wheeldon FRAeS
Wheeldon Strategic Advisory Ltd,
M: +44 7710 779785