Brexit was not a rejection of British decline, but of British successby Ian Dunt / September 22, 2017 / Leave a comment
Martin Amis was on Radio 4’s Today programme this week, ostensibly to support Remain. He didn’t do a very good job of it. Brexit, he said, was above all “a denial of decline.” Britain had to stop thinking that it was “a weight on the world stage.”
It is incredibly tiresome to hear someone wallow in their country losing importance, especially when they’re phoning it in from their home in the US. As far as campaign strategies go, telling people their country is rubbish is never particularly effective. It also has the considerable disadvantage of being false.
This type of thinking has been typical on parts of the liberal left for years. We’re endlessly told that Britain never got over the loss of empire, that it is still lost nostalgic for the days when we used to hold the world to ransom at the end of a gunboat.
Oddly enough, it’s this argument itself which seems dated. For anyone my age (I was born in the early 80s), Britain has not been in a state of perpetual decline at all. The empire was packed up and put away long before I was born. The industrial unrest of the 70s was something parents talked about. Throughout my lifetime, Britain has actually been growing stronger, wealthier and more influential.
In economic terms, access to the single market and customs union turned it from the sick man of Europe to a moderate economic success story—arguably the world’s financial capital, and still, despite all the sense of industrial decline, a manufacturer of products which people want to buy. The Falklands showed a country with an independent military capacity and a willingness to engage if necessary. There were successful British-led interventions in Sierra Leone and Kosovo, which were no less important just because of the foolishness of the military misadventures which followed them.
But Britain’s advance was not primarily financial or military. It was cultural. In music, sports, and art, Britain was a world leader. Hardly anyone on the planet would not have some contact with a UK cultural product on an average day, whether it was through the Premier League, or Dizzee Rascal, or Harry Potter, or any other number of expressions of the…