Explanations vary. Some say they forgot about Gibraltar in the same way that they forgot about Northern Ireland. This theory rests on the idea that Boris Johnson (allegedly our Foreign Secretary) is as thick as Gerald Ford, who Lyndon Johnson said was ” so dumb that he can’t walk and chew gum at the same time.”
Others that there’s a sort of desperate over-compensation going on. Neal Asherson wrote last November that “It’s insecurity, not complacency, which is prompting such Little England deafness and blindness to the outside world”:
“Nothing in British history resembles this spectacle of men and women ramming through policies everyone knows they don’t believe in. Never mind the few genuine Brexiteers. Amber Rudd, Philip Hammond and Theresa May – among others in government – all tried to keep the UK in the European Union. Now they are trying to take it out again, apparently on the terms that will do their country most damage.
There’s a kind explanation, a white-coated one and a coarse one. The kind account says that they feel democratically obliged to carry out the wishes of the English people, whatever their private opinions. (A variant suggests that they think themselves duty-bound to save the country from the worst consequences of a disastrous decision, but their recklessness over Brexit doesn’t support that.) The white-coated shrink account is that they are pathologically over-compensating out of guilt for backing the wrong side. And the coarse explanation is that they just want to stay in power.
This is a government that stamps and shouts in order to hide its inner weakness. Its majority in the House of Commons is tiny; the Conservative Party is noisily divided; the quarrelling cabinet – despite the ‘no running commentary’ proclamation – leaks and briefs daily about Brexit. And it’s led by a politician whose show of flinty determination conceals – I increasingly suspect – awful fears about her own ability to control her party and something close to panic as she leads Britain into the black cloud of unknowing that covers Brexit negotiations, the trembling economy and the future of the United Kingdom itself.”
This weird “bedraggled exceptionalism” is shifting rapidly from an economic debacle pivoted on lies and propaganda to a nightmare of Foreign Policy.
British amnesia about our most recent foreign policy disasters brought to you by Tony Blair Inc is now complete. The carnage of Tony’s monstrous ego played-out through his Liberal Interventionism, jumped host species to David Cameron’s ‘Muscular Liberalism’ and is now spewing itself out into public life in the form of this new bellicose nationalism.
It’s the sort of distorted English nationalism that is angry enough to snarl that it ‘would go to war over Gibraltar’ but self-obsessed enough to have forgotten that it even existed.
Neat isn’t it?
The forgetfulness is rampant. Northern Ireland – an area disregarded in the mash-up of Westminster’s ludicrous contradictory statements about hard and soft borders. As Peter Geoghegan has put it: “In the almost two decades (since the Good Friday Agreement) Northern Ireland has quietly slipped from Britain’s national consciousness.”
Britannia Unchained, England’s awakening has unleashed a form of madness, and we’re beginning to realise that in remembering itself, its forgotten the rest of the world exists too.