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Our Government Is Making Same Errors as Other Nationalist Movements
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The view from the top of the Western Heights, the great fortified hill overlooking Dover, has the advantage of taking in many of the key features shaping life in Britain in the age of Brexit and Covid-19. The most important of these is the proximity of the French coast, glittering on the horizon 22 miles away, a fact of geography that will continue to determine what happens in Britain more than any trade deal or withdrawal agreement with the EU.

If proof of this were needed, it was provided over Christmas by the devastating impact of the French ban on untested lorry drivers crossing the Channel in a bid to stop them spreading the new variant of the virus to France. The giant backlog of stranded trucks and trapped truck drivers graphically illustrated the dependence of Britain on unhampered links to continental Europe.

The brief fracas reinforced the menacing message already sent during the course of the negotiations with the EU that, when push comes to shove, the UK will always have to play the weaker hand in any confrontation. We have already witnessed this permanent tilting of the balance of power away from Britain and towards the 27 EU nations, with the UK agreeing to shift the commercial border between Northern Ireland and the Irish Republic to the middle of the Irish Sea.

Journalists briefly poured into Dover to report on how the super-efficient port, normally capable of sending 10,000 trucks a day to-and-fro between Britain and France, had been brought to nearly a complete halt. Few drew attention to another fact about Dover, more damaging to Britain than any short-term impediment to trade, which goes a long way to explain its decision to leave the EU.

A few hundred yards from the thriving port is the moribund town of Dover, whose people draw almost no benefit from the £122bn a year in trade that flows past their doors. Instead, they have seen the disappearance of big employers – marine services, paper factory, barracks, prison – from Dover in the 48 years that their country has been a member of the EU.

Brussels may not be responsible for this economic decay – it was, rather, the unwitting scapegoat – but it paid the price for presiding over what many people in Dover rejected as an unacceptable status quo. The Brexit campaign and the Johnsonian version of the Conservative Party, now transformed into a thorough-going English nationalist party, became the convenient vehicle for their grievances over being left behind or left out.

Dover provides a telling parable about modern England because it not only contains side-by-side examples of the success and failure of globalisation, but it is filled with reminders of a more glorious past. Henry II’s magnificent 12th century fortress, the greatest medieval castle in the country, is close to the headquarters of the Dunkirk evacuation, dug deep into the White Cliffs. Both sustain the nationalist conviction that Britain is better off on its own. But an undiluted diet of ancient victories and achievements, with all the defeats and humiliations left out, fosters an over-confidence based on wishful thinking about the real world and a dangerously misleading belief that “we did it before and we can do it again”.

Such magical thinking is not exclusively English. On the contrary, what is striking about English “exceptionalism” is that it is so unexceptional. All nationalist movements down the centuries, from Hanoi to Warsaw and Harare to Philadelphia, have cultivated a sense of ethnic or cultural superiority or, at least, difference. A mistake of the Remainers in the referendum and in subsequent years was their failure to understand that the national state remains the focus of collective loyalty and identity for much of the population, a feeling reinforced by the relentless onslaught of cultural and economic globalisation.

A measure of English provincialism is that Dominic Cummings won both wide praise and condemnation for the supposed demonic cunning with which he devised all-embracing nationalist slogans, such as the notorious “Take Back Control”, which differs little from those chanted by liberation movements everywhere. Leave supporters would be horrified by the idea, but the mantras of the Brexiteers resemble closely those of Sinn Fein (“Ourselves Alone”), previously the most successful nationalist movement in the British Isles.

The remodelled ultra-English nationalist version of the Conservative Party shares the strengths and weaknesses of all nationalist movements. Boris Johnson is often accused by the media of “over-promising and under-delivering”, but this is the common behaviour pattern of nationalist leaders.

Such promises invariably bump into reality, but nationalists seldom own up to their mistakes, instead blaming hidden enemies inside and outside the country. The Brexiteers claimed during the referendum that personal and national liberty were the same thing. But once in power, it is the former – in the shape of courts, parliament, free press – that is swiftly sacrificed in the interests of the national project.

Such projects are usually in trouble because they are confected from dreams. Donald Trump promised to Make America Great Again, but he leaves it weaker, and more divided and discredited than ever. Johnson promises that Britain will “prosper mightily” outside the EU, though none of the Brexiteers have been able to produce a rational explanation as to why this should be so.

I have always argued that the greatest danger lies not in Brexit but in the Brexiteers themselves because they were selling political and economic snake oil and would go on doing so. Moreover, they were selling it to different people under different labels: the anti-EU coalition combined free-market, Thatcher-worshipping activists working in temporary concert with those who saw themselves as Thatcher’s victims.

Until recently, the Brexiteers seemed to be swimming with the tide. Everywhere, international alliances and global organisations like the UN, EU and Nato appeared to be on the wane. A former British diplomat remarked to me in 2016 that “Europe is full of think tanks and academic institutions studying integration, but it turns out that they should have been studying disintegration”.


His prediction seemed to be unpleasantly justified by events at the time and his thesis received further proof when the supreme test of the Covid-19 pandemic in 2020 saw nation states look exclusively to their own interests. But since the summer there are signs of a turn in the tide. Trump was capsized by his mad-cap incompetence during the epidemic. The EU set up a common €750bn relief fund. Whatever radical plans Johnson may have had to remake the British state may have been permanently holed below the waterline by his own incompetence and the calamitous economic damage inflicted by the epidemic.

Back in 2016 it did not look inevitable that the EU would become, at least temporarily, more united because of Brexit, while the UK would become more divided, probably permanently, with Scotland and Northern Ireland more and more detached from the union. As for England, Brexit was a symptom of terrible problems for people living in places like Dover, but there is no reason to believe that it will do anything to help them.

(Republished from The Independent by permission of author or representative)
• Category: Foreign Policy • Tags: Brexit, Britain, EU 
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  1. Wyatt says:

    It sounds like Patrick has got his knickers in a twist over this.

    Because of that, I approve of whatever is Boris is doing.

  2. GeeBee says:

    the Johnsonian version of the Conservative Party, now transformed into a thorough-going English nationalist party,

    Is this sheer ignorance, or does Cockburn have a vindictive sense of humour that makes him incapable of resisting the temptation to bait actual nationalists? Out of countless examples available to give the lie to his outrageous claim, I would invoke poor Emma West, a young mother who, at her wits’ end trying to look after her child when travelling on a Croydon tram full of ‘enrichment’, gave vent to a few choice remarks aimed at these aliens. One of these immigrants had filmed her ‘outburst’ on his mobile of course, but despite her being even-tempered rather than volubly abusive, she was arrested. Nor was her unblemished record of having no previous involvement with the police to any avail: she was given a two-year prison sentence. Not a suspended sentence, mind you well: she was separated from her family and hauled off to jail. For mere words uttered on a tram. I need scarcely add that under this same ‘thorough-going English nationalist’ government, negroes have been given lighter sentences for murder.

    If this is an ‘English National Party’ in action against one of its own, Mr Cockburn, I’d dread to imagine what Britain would be like were its government anything less ‘nationalist’ than you claim.

    • Agree: RadicalCenter
  3. Syd Walker says: • Website

    You mean this Emma West?

    The woman who’s drunken abusive rant in 2011 led to her being sentenced to a 24-month community order (NOT jail)?

    The woman whose “unblemished record of having no previous involvement with the police” mysteriously led to her being “sentenced for a previous attack on her partner with an ornamental knife, leaving him with two puncture wounds and several slashes on his body, as well as an assault on a police officer.”

    I’m used to pretty-minded nationalists moaning, of course, but usually their whining is slightly more relevant than this. I’m also used to bigots mangling their “facts”, but when they do it as crudely as GeeBee or Emma West, there’s little to be done except wait until they sober up.

    • Replies: @GeeBee
    , @RadicalCenter
  4. dvorak says:

    the Johnsonian version of the Conservative Party, now transformed into a thorough-going English nationalist party

    While partly a co-optation of Faragianism, Johnsonianism is also an accident of history. Scottish separatism caused an exodus from the Labour party to the SNP, which allowed the Tories to win no matter their policies.

    Scots shot themselves in the foot.

    • Replies: @Rahan
  5. GeeBee says:
    @Syd Walker

    My apologies. I have clearly got two cases mixed up, and cannot recall the one I intended to cite.

    Egg on face.

    • Thanks: Syd Walker
  6. The Unz Review • An Alternative Media Selection
    A Collection of Interesting, Important, and Controversial Perspectives Largely Excluded from the American Mainstream Media

    The British Conservative Party is CINO – conservative in name only. like nearly all other “conservative” parties in the West. The fact that a liberal bien pensant hack like Cockburn claims they are some sort of nationalist movement tells us all we need to know about him. Cockburn and his ilk are not interesting, important, controversial or largely excluded from the mainstream media.
    As I’ve said before, why is he here ?

    • Agree: RadicalCenter
  7. Rahan says:

    Scottish separatism caused an exodus from the Labour party to the SNP, which allowed the Tories to win no matter their policies.

    Scots shot themselves in the foot.

    What is interesting is will Scotland become a one-party/dominant-party “liberal democracy” if it goes solo? The way it looks now, this new sovereign Scotland will have a political ecosphere vastly less diverse than those in otherwise maligned Poland, Hungary, and Russia.

    • Replies: @The Alarmist
    , @Wielgus
  8. cry more you pathetic shill.
    only 5th column and useful idiots support the eu and its attempts to kill the nation states of Europe.

  9. polistra says:

    Stop with the idiotic “errors” and “mistakes”. Boris knows what he’s doing, just as Pol Pot did and Hitler did. His holocaust work is ahead of schedule and under budget. Flawless performance.

  10. … calamitous economic damage inflicted by the epidemic.

    No, PC, the damage was inflicted by the decisions of the politicos. The epidemic, if left to run its own course with life going on as normal, would have presented the government with budgetary gains and might have even been an economy booster.

    Either the politicos are incompetent, or they are doing the bidding of the Criminal Elite who decided it was time, à la Larry Silverstein, to “pull it,” which is why the nationalist tide is receding as any expression of dissent is silenced in the MSM and social media and physically repressed by over-the-top lockdowns.

  11. @Rahan

    What’s more, Scotland will quickly miss its disproportionate influence in the United Kingdom.

  12. Wielgus says:

    I think in an independent Scotland the SNP might well break into two or three parts, perhaps on left/right lines.

  13. KenR says:

    I read this article based on the title with the hope that it would point out some of the common mistakes made by nationalists.

    Yet does not really name or address any of these things. What are the mistakes of nationalism? From what I can glean from the article, the chief mistake seems to be hope. Is hope for an independent future a forlorn and catastrophic thing?

  14. Everything Cockburn has written about Brexit has turned out to be completely wrong.

    And yet he can’t bring himself to admit it

    So he writes this vacuous nonsense instead

    I hope his lies make him feel better about himself

  15. @Syd Walker

    Does not have much relevance and does not remotely justify a two-year prison sentence, or much of any prison sentence, for mere angry words. Absurd.

  16. @GeeBee

    For mere words uttered on a tram. I need scarcely add that under this same ‘thorough-going English nationalist’ government, negroes have been given lighter sentences for murder.

    Likewise Adhel ‘Eddie’ Ali the leader of the Telford rape gang which abused 100 local girls was recently released from prison after serving just 8 of his 26 year sentence.

    Like other ex-felons he probably won’t be deported to his homeland as required by law. The so-called nationalist government has even used trickery to cover up this awful saga.

    Hate crime laws are mainly a product of Jewish lawyer Anthony Lester. He wanted to shut up people opposed to the third world deluge like John Tyndall of the National Front and publisher of Spearhead magazine.

    Today these are effectively tools of oppression. According to the UK Crown Prosecution Service a hate crime is defined as ‘hostility towards the victim’s disability, race, religion, sexual orientation or transgender identity’. This can mean anything.

    Most Brits are too dumb to see the damage Jews, shabbo goys and loony lefties have done to their country. Acknowledging this is also seen as anti-semitic and far-right.

    Cockburn sounds delusional, incoherent and odd to most here because he lives in a Plato’s cave of champagne socialism and progressive values.

    • Agree: GeeBee
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