When Dean Acheson told us more than 60 years ago that we had “lost an Empire, but not found a role “ he could scarcely have imagined how well into the 21st Century this would still be true. I am a baby boomer born the year after WW2 ended. So my lifespan has seen the change from Great Power status to where we are today – which is what?
Acheson pointed Britain towards Europe – a direction that was, for other European countries big and small, largely uncontroversial. One can debate the nature of the model and the extent of the “ever closer Union” in Europe — but not the strategy. To argue that Britain should withdraw from the integration project you need some pretty powerful arguments to back up the exceptionalism. They don’t exist.
The Munich analogies live with the Great Power analogies and they should all be confined to the dustbin. Instead, post Brexit, we’ve put out more flags. The Tom Moore story was a fin de seicle hanging onto our fading memories of a time when Britain alone was not just true, but commendably honourable. He symbolised the emergence from “Our Darkest Hour” at a time when the skies were darkening again.
“Britain alone” today fails as a model because unlike in 1940 it has been a choice without any logic and makes us look petulant rather than brave. If after more than seventy years our role is defined by what we were rather than what we could be we’ve got a problem !