This royal throne of kings, this sceptred isle,
This earth of majesty, this seat of Mars,
This other Eden, demi-paradise,
This fortress built by nature for herself
Against infection and the hand of war,
This happy breed of men, this little world,
This precious stone set in the silver sea,
Which serves it in the office of a wall,
Or as a moat defensive to a house
Against the envy of less happier lands;
This blessed plot, this earth, this realm, this England,
this nurse, this teeming womb of royal kings,
Feared be their breed and famous by their birth,
Renowned for their deeds as far from home
For Christian service and true chivalry
As is the sepulchre, in stubborn Jewry,
Of the world’s ransom, blessed Mary’s son;
This land of such dear souls, this dear dear land,
Dear for her reputation through the world,
Is now leased out – I die pronouncing it –
Like to a tenement or a pelting farm.
England, bound in with the triumphant sea,
Whose rocky shore beats back the envious siege
Of watery Neptune, is now bound in with shame,
With inky blots and rotten parchment bonds.
That England that was wont to conquer others
Hath made a shameful conquest of itself.
From Shakespeare’s Richard II, lines spoken by John of Gaunt.
It seems to me there’s an element in the English psyche that needs an enemy to fight, a dragon for St George (a foreigner by the way) to slay; an element that harks back to the Second World War and an imagined golden age. In the absence of a current aggressor, that role has been taken for many years by the European Union, which the United Kingdom voted to leave in 2016 by a narrow majority in a divisive referendum.
The benefits of EU membership have never really been promoted, and often lies about the EU have been perpetuated that have established themselves in our national identity. For decades politicians have also been content to blame their failures on the EU because it’s been politically expedient for them to do so.
We dubiously lift ourselves up by putting others down, insulting the Germans (for example), and hating others rather than working together for the common good, even if we hurt ourselves in the process. The latter is especially so in the possible no-deal Brexit scenario, as this would have catastrophic consequences for the UK.
For some who voted Brexit, the ‘enemy’ is now those who voted to remain in the EU, often referred to as ‘traitors’ and ‘enemies of the people’. This attitude is unhelpful and dangerous as it opens the way for far-right extremists to gain influence and power, history reminding us this never ends well.
Somehow, our nation needs to unite and find the best way forward, but I’m not sure how this can happen, and I’m concerned about the country I love.