Global Britain: Repressing Dissent at Home, Armed to the Teeth Abroad
For years people have been crying out for some vision, some future-focused idea of what Britain is, beyond the woolly undefined ‘Global Britain’ (a slogan that’s claimed by Theresa May, Gordon Brown and Boris Johnson). Britain has been for a long time a nation consumed by nostalgia immersed in Spitfire Nationalism and gorging itself in summoning aspects of a glorious mythical past. But now, finally, we have some articulations of a New Future.
So what does it look like?
In his Commons statement on the Integrated Defence, Security and Foreign Policy Review, Boris Johnson opened by saying that its aim was to make the UK stronger, safer and more prosperous. We’d do this by spending billions on increasing our nuclear warhead capacity beyond the current 180 warheads (each warhead has an explosive power of 100 kilotons. The atomic bomb dropped on Hiroshima at the end of the second world war was about 15 kilotons.) The government’s integrated defence review said the UK would be lifting the cap on its nuclear arsenal by 40 per cent, from 180 to 260 warheads.
The announcement comes despite the UK being a signatory of the Treaty on the Non-Proliferation of Nuclear Weapons, which commits the government to gradual nuclear disarmament under international law.
But we know that they don’t care about breaking international law.
The second highlight from the 100 page report was the idea of ‘global trade’. They will float the new aircraft carrier out to the China Sea and – according to Radio 4 – use it as a place for cocktail parties. If the government are rejecting the Treaty on the Non-Proliferation of Nuclear Weapons they have also rejected the European Court of Human Rights (ECHR):
Let our country be known by the company it keeps. pic.twitter.com/rAl4ZINPFh
— Tim Walker (@ThatTimWalker) March 16, 2021
So we’re beginning to get a glimpse of their vision for future Britain. But if people are shocked that the Conservatives will ignore human rights abuses abroad, they shouldn’t be, given the contents of the Police, Crime, Sentencing & Courts Bill.
Campaign groups accused authorities of mounting a “staggering assault on our right to protest”, highlighting that liberties had already been curtailed by coronavirus laws.
The legislation stems from a report on the handling of demonstrations by British police which stated that there has been a tendency of “tipping the balance too readily in favour of protesters”, which you may have noticed if you’ve been spied on, kettled, beaten or impregnated by one of the force in recent years.
The report was commissioned by Priti Patel. HM Inspectorate of Constabulary (HMICFRS) was tasked with reviewing how officers used existing powers and whether the law should be changed. The report called on police to improve the way they assess the impact of protests, increase the quality of intelligence and “support forces to use live facial recognition technology in a way that improves police efficiency and effectiveness”.
That the report highlights the Extinction Rebellion and Black Lives Matter protest tells us everything about the state we’re in and the shifting ground of democratic norms. As Daniel Trilling writes the bill itself has been rushed through:
” … the policing bill that is currently making its way through parliament, shows that authoritarian populism remains a central part of the Johnson government’s project. Introduced with a now-familiar disregard for parliamentary scrutiny – the 300-page bill was only unveiled a week ago, giving MPs and observers barely enough time to read and interpret its contents – the police, crime, sentencing and courts bill proposes new powers that will allow senior police officers and the home secretary to restrict protest in unprecedented ways, as well as measures intended to criminalise the living circumstances of Gypsy, Roma and Traveller communities.”
Many people have noticed that the bill offers more protection to statues and to memorials than to women. As Trilling points out: “One of the bill’s harshest measures, which proposes a maximum 10-year prison sentence for damaging a memorial, began life in June 2020 as a proposal by the backbencher Jonathan Gullis, an enthusiastic proponent of the right’s “war on woke”.
So this is the right’s war on woke manifesting itself as new absurdist dystopian legislation.
So here we are.
Many people from a Unionist perspective argue constantly that the benefit of being part of the UK is to be associated with a ‘bigger brand’ – a ‘global player’ – a ‘powerhouse’. Kenny Farquharson this week put the question: “Does anybody think COP26 would be coming to an independent Scotland?” Ignoring the fact that the UK is failing so badly on its climate targets, this plea also ignores the fact that the 2009 COP was held in Copenhagen. This is Unionist Realism in which the Union is presented as an immutable fact of life – and people find it simply impossible to imagine Scotland as a country operating in the real world – despite hundreds of examples of small nations surrounding us.
And what if – given the grotesque vision of Global Britain projected by Boris Johnson leaves you associated with a ‘big brand’ that is deeply authoritarian, toxic, corrupt, inherently violent and law-breaking? What are the real world financial consequences of vast spending on nuclear warheads and aircraft carriers? Where is the money taken from? We already know. But if you were to protest all this you will be subject to one of the most repressive regimes in Europe. The Unionist argument that cleaving to the powerful is morally bankrupt in the light of this vision of the future.