Wednesday, 29 March 2017

The Lady's Not for Turning - Back

March 29: the day British Conservative Prime Minister Theresa May officially informed the European Union of the UK's intention to withdraw from the project.

Significant rather than historic, I think; Mrs May's letter to the President of the European Council, Donald Tusk, merely 'triggered' Article 50 of the Lisbon Treaty, formally the first day of a two-year divorce.

The truly historic day happened nine months ago on June 23, 2016, when the British people voted in a referendum to leave the EU. Today only happened as a result of that event. Had the referendum gone the other way today would have been more or less like any other, except that David Cameron would still be Prime Minister.

Why Mrs May chose today to kiss off the EU on behalf of the nation rather than May 29 or July 29, is anybody's guess. She may have felt that delaying an announcement would only be the cause of more irritation among hard-line leavers within the Conservative Party and uncertainty nationwide.

A political bonus for the Prime Minister is the determination of Scottish Nationalists in Edinburgh to whip themselves up to fever pitch about a second Independence referendum for Scotland. They lost the first one in 2014 and on the evidence of what I've seen and heard in the Highlands over the past few years the SNP will lose the second one as well. I wouldn't be surprised if they even lost the next General Election.

I spent today reading a proof copy of The Gallows Pole, a novel by Ben Myers based on real events in West Yorkshire's Calder Valley between 1767 and 1770, a period of transition when industrial England was taking shape in the form of factories, roads and canals. The old ways for the rural poor, including defrauding the currency, were ending.

At no point during today did I feel the hand of history on my shoulder. I may not live long enough to see the day when Britain really does cast off from the European Union's political project. Many other events are likely to happen between now and then that will determine the eventual outcome: elections in France and Germany, for example; the stability of other EU members such as Greece and Italy; the state of the euro as a currency; to say nothing of events in the United States, Russia and the Middle East.

Mrs May said there is no turning back for Britain; but who's to say what will happen behind her back? She would do well to remember the fate of Margaret Thatcher. She got the Julius Caesar treatment from Tory patricians like Edward Heath, Geoffrey Howe and Michael Heseltine, because she wasn't as keen on the European project as they were. Some of them are still able to make a nuisance of themselves. Are they going to sit back and await the outcome of events?

I was around when the late Tory MP and former cabinet Minister Enoch Powell urged Conservative voters to support the Labour Party in the 1974 General Election because at that time Labour policy was to seek withdrawal of Britain's membership from the European Economic Community, as the project was then called. Mr Powell thought it was a stitch-up that we would come to regret. Labour's Tony Benn held the same opinion.

Winning occasional battles does not guarantee ultimate victory. The bloodiest slaughter on British soil occurred on March 29, 1461. Thousands of men were killed and maimed when supporters of Edward, Duke of York, overcame the forces of Henry V1 at Towton in Yorkshire. But the House of York only reigned supreme until the Battle of Bosworth in 1485. Goodbye Richard 111, vivat Henry V11 and the Tudors.

And on March 29, 1912, Captain Robert Falcon Scott, died in a tent at the South Pole, having been beaten to his objective by Norwegian explorer Roal Amundsen. "The end cannot be far," he wrote in his diary. It wasn't for Scott. His body is still out there, under ice, snow and a cairn of rocks.

For Britain it's neither the end of the beginning nor the beginning of the end. Until the decree nisi is formally declared in March 2019 or later, this country is still a member of the European Union. To paraphrase blogger and FLEXCIT author Richard A E North: Brexit is a process, not an event.

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