It was that time again, when Britain’s Prime Minister goes to America and the Remainer remnant, keeping alive the true Europhile faith, gathered together in conclave to mourn leaving our place in the EU. Prime Minister Sunak’s visit to the United States on affairs of state was too good an opportunity to miss to pour out one’s anger and resentment towards Britain after Brexit in handwringing opinion column after column, echoing George Kennan’s quip that Britain had lost an empire and not yet found a role.
To listen to the commentary on Sunak’s visit from those like Rafael Behr in The Guardian, who epitomise what Joel Kotkin has called the liberal “Clerisy” that seeks to legitimate their vision of a managerial regime, this visit was simply yet more evidence of the fact that Britain is now an embarrassing irrelevance outside the EU and the diplomatic and economic weight it gave us. The central argument is that Britain without the EU is set to be crushed between an imperial America and a strategically autonomous EU. For Behr, America’s leadership bestows attaboy pats on the head when they deign to notice our supplication. As such, belonging to a managerialist imperial bloc like the EU was our only way to hold sway.
Needless to say, our own empire was obviously utterly unredeemable in every way and its disappearance is cause for eternal celebration and repudiation. As a result, the European Union with its emphasis on abdication of sovereignty; free movement of capital, goods and services; mass and unfettered migration, and all the rest, could stand as a post-modern imperial force at the End of History.
The romantics for a Greater Europa highlight our supposedly newly subservient relationship in the US because it is apparently an empire we can’t join. Well, this has been the case since America shaped the Western postwar world order in its image, whether we were in or out of Europe. That’s how great powers, and then hegemons, behave. Sunak is fulfilling the role of statesman by accepting and adjusting to this reality as it is.
Even so, many countries today, considered serious places by the very people who damn Britain to everlasting diminishment, have never been imperial forces. Many, like Singapore and other East Asian countries, as well as Israel, that are the products of the inevitable failure of imperial powers, succeed because they are cold-blooded realists about international politics. They deal with the great powers according to their interests, while maintaining their own cultural vitality and economic wealth.
Such nations might be “small” in the Remainer mind, but that does not make them insignificant. Britain is still in the G7, a serious security partner, and has the potential to regain its degraded state capacity and broadly distributed prosperity. It is a supreme irony that Brexiteers are considered retrograde, when they’re not the ones hankering after empire, British or European. Brexit is indeed a confection of ideological tribes: global-Britain Whigs and “Condition of England” Tories. But they are united in their desire for a successful, cohesive nation forming alliances, treaties, and pacts with states around the world.
Meanwhile, we continue in our old role of being the “offshore balancer” against Europe, a role we played with and for America whether we were in or out of the EU. While the Remainer Remnant longs for a vanished past that never existed, Britain is regaining a sense of itself as a political agent on the world stage.
Longing for the European Empire at the End of History is now the preserve of pro-EU Jacobites, still holding toasts for the confederation over the water, economically declining and geopolitically divided. They, not the Brexiteers, are the real imperialists in our post-modern times.