At primary school back in the early 1940s in the West Riding of Yorkshire, we were taught about Great Britain and the British Empire. Britain was ‘great’ because we British ruled a large percentage of the Earth’s land, oceans and peoples. Originally, well since the 12th Century anyway, the adjective ‘great’ in Great Britain was intended to denote the fact that Britain was the landmass comprised of the countries England, Wales and Scotland. It had nothing to do with the modern meanings of ‘great’. It was great to be a young British lad though - even in the middle of a horrible war. Only some years later did we learn the words of Rule Britannia – and how to spell Britannia correctly. I’m also fairly certain that we used to sing, ‘Britannia rules the waves’ which we would not have known was grammatically incorrect. It is an imperative and not a statement, and should be ‘Britannia, rule the waves’
It was a real eye-opener when I joined the RAF in 1953. I spent a lot of my subsequent 47 years in blue serving in more than a dozen of those countries that used to be marked red in school atlases, but I can’t say that I ever found any of the locals I met and worked with in Africa and Asia were truly overjoyed at the presence of the British in their countries. I am as loyal to my country as the next man but let’s not fool ourselves that the UK is a still a force to be reckoned with in the world. In any case, even if we were, we can no longer afford the membership costs.
I often wonder what the citizens of other countries think of us. Do they think we’re great? In the last few days the PM has reiterated his firm belief that the UK is still a force to be reckoned with in the world. I’m not so sure any more. As readers of my Blogs know, I was opposed to both the Iraq and the Afghanistan wars in which so many British military personnel were killed. I was also opposed to the NATO intervention in Libya. Clearly our most senior military officers are getting very concerned about present government military commitments – let alone any future ones. When senior officers' briefing notes regularly get 'leaked' to the media, one is forced to wonder at the true relationship between the military and the government. (“You do the fighting: I’ll do the talking” – Prime Minister Cameron, 21 June 2011, to the military top brass.)
There could be worse to come. In recent weeks I’ve been following media reports about another possible trouble spot that has not yet made the UK front pages again as far as I can see. I refer to the Falkland Islands. There are Presidential elections coming up soon in Argentina and already that government is making it clear that their aim is still to re-occupy what they have always called the Malvinas. Has anyone checked for dodgy fishing vessels in South Georgia recently? Some reports claim that the USA are very sympathetic to the Argentine claims (as they were last time!). We were very nearly caught short in 1982. Does our Government have a contingency plan to prevent that happening again – or are the loyal islanders to be sacrificed this time? I think we should be told.
Afterthought in 2018. The previous paragraphs were written in 2011. The Falklands are still quiet but simmering and will surely one day become news again. As regards Brexit, the Gibraltar border has gone very quiet while our government was (is still) preoccupied with what to do about the land border between NI and the Irish Republic. It is about time we had a cross-party Ministry for Unforeseen Consequences. (I had better declare, for what my opinion is worth, in the EU referendum I voted to Remain in the EU and I still think I was right to do so.)