by Henry Gilmore

[This article appeared in edition No.22 of the influential Conservative magazine RIGHT NOW!, which was published in 1999.]


The Millennium is approaching. It will prove to be the most significant psychological landmark in world history since the Second World War.

Few can doubt that the period between the end of World War II and the present day has been one of the most sorry eras in British history. We started with a mighty Empire, but have finished as little more than a province of a federal Europe. Even more worrying, however, the very existence of the United Kingdom itself is now threatened by devolution in Scotland and Wales, and by sell-out in Northern Ireland. These two retrograde developments are not unrelated. It is the intention of Federalist forces in Europe to destroy the great nation states not only by concentrating over-riding power at the top, but also be establishing enhanced regional centres of power as secondary tiers of authority.

The more rabid apologists for Euro-federalism (the Heaths and Jenkins of this world) are extremely fond of describing those opposed to European integration as "Little Englanders". Not only is this a lie, it is actually the complete antithesis of the truth. It is those who lack confidence in our country to exist outside a European "super state", yet who simultaneously wish us to think of ourselves as "English" (or "Scottish" or "Welsh") rather than as British, who are in reality the "Little Englanders".

But what of the future. All the signs are that the EU is heading for troubled times with the coming of the Millennium. The common currency is being rushed into operation amidst fudge and false-accountancy which threatens total chaos; the global economic recession will spell disaster for all those economies that can't control their own interest rates; and (perhaps as a result of these previous factors) Euroscepticism is on the increase throughout the EU - not just in Britain. A doomsday scenario therefore looms. Britain must get out, and get out quickly.

To withdraw, however, there must be a clear alternative. Many more "purist" opponents of the EU state simply that the UK should leave and become totally "independent" of all international links - a sort of large-scale Switzerland. Such a policy may be possible, but it isn't practical. The lack of any "big idea" as an alternative will not only fail to galvanise majority support in the electorate, but also ignores Britain's historic and natural attributes as a great global power.

The idea of the UK joining NAFTA is also being increasingly suggested as an alternative. Such a development has much to be said in its favour. NAFTA has no political agenda and there is no talk of a common currency. Furthermore Britain has closer traditional and ethnic ties with Canada than with any continental country, and our links with the United States are also natural, strong and long-standing. There is one major problem with NAFTA however: Mexico.

The other and perhaps more viable alternative is far more visionary, and entails that enigmatic and often derided institution, the Commonwealth. When Britain surrendered her Empire and opted instead for the Common Market it was probably the most ludicrous example in history of swapping a treasure chest of wealth for a constant drain on the national coffers - but that potential treasure trove is still out there waiting. It must be emphasised, however, that we are not talking about that farce of the current-day Commonwealth - that warped institution where civilised and democratic Britain is scolded by blood-stained third world despots - but rather the possibilities that such a grouping of nations and territories might still offer us.

There are, moreover, already some most encouraging straws in the wind. It shouldn't be forgotten that the initial break-up of the United Kingdom actually preceded the collapse of Empire, when the 26 counties of Southern Ireland were allowed to secede in 1922, and it is here where ironically some of the most significant signs of Britain's restoration as a larger world player have surfaced. Despite the current concentration of attention on political changes in Northern Ireland, one far more important development has been overlooked - the growth of pro-Unionist sentiment in the Republic of Ireland. A vibrant Unionist Association has been in existence at Trinity College Dublin for some time, and out of this has grown the nationwide pro-re-unification Reform Movement. In April of 1998 for the first time since partition an overtly Unionist candidate, John McDonald, stood in an election for the Dail in a Dublin constituency, and obtained a surprisingly respectable number of first-preference votes. Support for the more limited idea of the Republic of Ireland rejoining the Commonwealth is even greater however, with former President Mary Robinson even voicing her approval. It should also be borne in mind that were the UK to leave the EU then for geographical, cultural and economic reasons it would be difficult to imagine the Republic of Ireland not following.

We must continue to look west however. Canada is probably the most obvious and logical nation for Britain to establish an integrated market with, and here the growth in support for the French-speaking Quebec separatists has caused a natural pro-British backlash amongst the country's Anglophile majority. Similarly every advance by Australia's (mainly immigrant-descended) pro-Republican campaigners only increases the backlash of pro-British sentiment in that country.

But it is not only to the old Dominions of the Commonwealth where Britain should be looking for a new (or revived) global role. If they are honest most of the ordinary citizens of the third world Commonwealth countries would also look back to the era of British colonial rule as a golden age. In Hong Kong, just prior to the unnecessary handover of that little pot of gold to the tender mercies of Communist Chinese rule, Kowloon was festooned with wall graffiti saying such things as "Long Live British Martial [sic] Rule", sentiments which were confirmed by opinion polls showing over 70% of the population would prefer to remain a British colony. During a recent visit to London Ian Smith told how he was constantly being approached by Blacks in the former Rhodesia who told him that they wished he was still in charge, and a recent television documentary dumbfounded liberals when a number of Blacks in South Africa openly state that life was far better for them during the days of White rule.

Of course at this stage it would be a mistake to theorise upon the precise nature of this "new" Commonwealth. It would not, however, simply be a replica of the previous British Empire; after all we are now living in the age of the Internet, not the sailing ship - but the very nature of the modern "global village" means that inter-continental alliances and single markets will be far more practical in the twenty-first century than they were in the nineteenth. It will probably evolve as a "core" Commonwealth revolving around the UK, the original dominions (including Southern Ireland) and Britain's existing overseas territories, but it will not be solely restricted to them. Certainly most Caribbean nations (who have suffered so much from Britain's membership of the EU) would find it most advantageous to become involved, as also will certain South-East Asian countries, for recent history has proven that they still have closer economic dependence upon the UK than most people realise. An added advantage to this potential future dispensation is that voluntary repatriation of third world residents from the UK would become far more practical.

Although the United States itself would undoubtedly not join any formal structure , the future even so omens well for a closer and more mutually-advantageous relationship. The two probable leading Republican candidates in 2000, Newt Gingrich (a firm Thatcherite, who moreover wrote his academic thesis on Belgian colonial history) and George Bush jnr. (whose father, of course, was probably the most pro-British American president in history, and who certainly didn't "go wobbly"), are both enthusiastic Anglophiles. The coming of the new Millennium could well herald America's largest potential "ethnic lobby" - those of British descent - at last asserting their ascendancy.

There are those isolationists, devolutionists and "Little Englanders", of course, who would claim that Britain no longer has the ability to be a great global power. They ignore a very important fact however, that twice during our nation's "dark era" (1945-1999) - during the Falklands and Gulf Wars - Britain has proved that our latent greatness still remains undiminished.

With the coming of the Millennium, and the undoubted problems which will be facing the EU, Britain will be at a cross-roads. It will be time for a new agenda for a new era. We will have to decide whether we wish to be "Little Englanders" or "Great Britons". It will be a choice between looking east to continental Europe where we have little in common traditionally and few economic advantages - or west towards Ireland, the Americas, and the open seas.

Henry Gilmore worked in Southern Africa for 14 years and also has firsthand experience of Hong Kong, Gibraltar and Bermuda. He currently lives in north-east Kent.

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