Time to Party: Britain's Going to Be Great Again

29/06/2016 11:51

We've all done it. We've planned a party at our place, invited our favourite, clever, witty friends and then, on a whim, asked some acquaintances too. They seemed friendly enough - the sort who would fit right in. But then, we'd never seen them drunk. We didn't know they did that; we thought they were just like us. We certainly hadn't expected them to invite their own friends too. By the end there was a whole gang of them, spewing out their intolerant, racist, narrow-minded 'Make Britain Great' crap; offending the other guests. Everything was ruined.

Nigel Farage and Boris Johnson have been our acquaintances for a while. We should have known better but then, there were times when they seemed nice enough, just so long as we didn't take them seriously. Of course, we'd never seen them drunk. Now here they are at our party, ruining everything. And the friends they've dragged round are just horrible. Donald Trump, Geert Wilders and Marine Le Pen: hateful right wingers, every one of them; the boorish drunks left over at the end of the party long after the sophisticated guests have left, embarrassed and ashamed.

According to Farage and Johnson, we now have the chance to make Britain great again. We're getting control back from the foreigners so that we can return our beloved country to its rightful state: greatness. You cannot mistake this ambition; it practically oozes from the nationalistic pores of the Union Jack-clad Brexit supporters.

It is unfortunate that the term great appears in our country's name. The reference is an accidental geographic one - it relates to the size of the mainland island - it says nothing about our place in the world. But it's a term that is easily hijacked and the populist Brexit team have not been slow in exploiting its appeal.

But what does it mean for our country to be great? We are already the fifth biggest economy in the world, which is pretty great. Now that we have got back control are we going to become the fourth biggest? The third? Will we only be truly great when we are number one in the world? Surely, not even the Brexit leaders can be so deluded although, to be fair to them, our vote to abandon the EU has immediately shifted our place in the league table: the loss of value of the pound has seen France overtake us and demote us to sixth. Great!

So, if not the economy, then what? Our voice in the world? Our influence? Are other countries going to look at us and say, "Oh, look at the plucky Brits, they told the EU where to shove it, let's hear what they've got to say"? It goes without saying that we're unlikely to get that reaction from our jilted partners in Europe. I can imagine, though, we would be admired by plenty of others for being so brave, especially the USA. We'll get a hearty pat on the back from them on their way into the summit meeting where they'll be concluding another enormous trade deal with the EU, leaving us outside wondering about the value of being in control of not very much.

While Farage and Johnson are welcome to their puerile view of British greatness, there is another perspective. We could be a country that collaborates with its neighbours; a country that is prepared to compromise for the greater good; a country that welcomes foreigners and treats them with respect and tolerance; a country that values kindness, patience, integrity and humour. We have been all of that. More, we have been part of one of the civilised world's greatest achievements: the dismantling of small-minded European nationalism with its endless brutal warfare, and its replacement with the beautiful, fragile architecture of peaceful, co-operative prosperity.

Now, that was something to be proud of; that was something really great.

Meanwhile, the drunks have settled in. They won't go and we're scared of them. They have the keys to our house. What were we thinking?

Paul Beaumont's acclaimed debut novel A Brief Eternity was nominated for the Dundee International Book Prize and is available on Amazon and other retailers.