“Long years ago we made a tryst with destiny, and now the time comes when we shall redeem our pledge, not wholly or in full measure, but very substantially. At the stroke of the midnight hour, when the world sleeps, India will awake to life and freedom. A moment comes, which comes but rarely in history, when we step out from the old to the new, when an age ends, and when the soul of a nation, long suppressed, finds utterance.”
When Jawaharlal Nehru gave his landmark speech, “Tryst with Destiny”, on the eve of Indian independence, the country had already suffered two centuries of colonial rule under the British. Two hundred years of being starved, beaten, fleeced (to the tune of tens of trillions of Pounds in today’s money) and oppressed. When the British entered India, it was one of the richest nations on earth. When they eventually left, the country was little more than an empty husk, destitute and impoverished.
However, India now had the right to make its own decisions, good or bad. It had gained the power to decide the nature of its relationship with the global community and the compromises it was willing to make in this endeavour. It had reclaimed its sovereignty.
Sovereignty. Such an emotive word. For many people it implies an absolute power and control over one’s fate – as an individual, a community or a nation. Any suggestion that this may be compromised or diminished is an anathema. The truth, however, is that in a globalized world, nations are just as likely to be rule takers as rule makers. The idea that sovereignty means that every nation gets to do what it wants 100% of the time is a medieval fantasy. This is how wars start.
Indeed, modern era geopolitics has been built upon cooperation not isolation and on the back of it, certainly Western Europe, has enjoyed its longest period of unbroken peace time. So, to witness the UK government and segments of the right-wing media here reject the status quo and instead adopt a jingoistic, isolationist (almost supremacist at times) narrative to work the population up into a frothy mouthed frenzy over our membership of the EU is extremely disconcerting. Moreover, to listen to Brexiteers liken the last fifty years of membership of the EU to a colonial occupation is downright offensive – talk about irony being lost on some people. Sadly, a lot of it is just down to ignorance and a lack of self-awareness.
These are the facts. The EU is a trading bloc that the UK joined willingly and has enabled us to become exceedingly wealthy to boot. UK citizens have been able to elect their own leaders, set their own interest rates and budgetary policy while enjoying freedom of movement throughout Europe. It’s about as close to colonization as my chances are of winning the national lottery.
Those baying for “Freeeedom” haven’t yet figured out that it’s actually personal sovereignty that is under siege. No more freedom of movement and to live and work where we want, no more guarantee of a minimum standard of workers rights or food standards, no assurance of free healthcare for all and no more duty-free imported goods (which include many essential foodstuffs). It’s the average person who is going to be hardest hit by Brexit fallout. The “Hooray Henry’s” will, as always, be just fine.
A small group of disruptors (the Tory splinter ERG and friends) want to dismantle the system, instigate chaos and create arbitrage opportunities – just as they have been doing for the past five years. They want to dictate how we live, eat, breathe and charge us handsomely for the privilege of living under their “generous” auspices. Furthermore, Covid chaos has provided an unexpected bonus opportunity to make even more money by the same group of people. The pandemic has also helped to curb any public protests against the Tories’ abject mishandling of Brexit negotiations. Covid, the gift that just keeps on giving.
Sod the cod Boris, get us a deal. With only two weeks to go, the chances of a free trade deal with our closest neighbours, the largest trading bloc in the world, still look touch and go. If we don’t get a deal with the EU, or any other major economy, our short to medium term destiny promises mass job losses, food shortages, widespread civil unrest and the deepest recession of the last three centuries.
A number of sticking points seem to be causing the bottle neck – fishing rights (which account for 0.000’something of GDP), level playing field rules, food and employment standards. The UK government says that the EU’s “unreasonable” position on these items and request for assurances diminish the UK’s sovereignty. Anyone sensible knows that these are contract terms that we either accept or reject and if those are deal breakers, so be it. It’s up to us to choose. That’s “freedom” in the context of the engaging with the global community. You can’t be a loner and simultaneously a world leader.
And how do you trust a govt that has shown willingness to repeatedly renege on agreements and even to break international law? Why shouldn’t the EU ask for assurances and mechanisms for recourse? Why doesn’t Johnson want to sign up to any punitive measures if the UK is negotiating in good faith and has no intention of breaking mutually agreed rules and standards?
The current negotiations with the EU are about managing a trading relationship and ”not about asserting sovereignty” as the Spanish foreign minister aptly put it. The reality is that the “sovereignty” argument is being used to hide the failure “a failure of statesmanship” (the PM’s words not mine).
The UK has done itself no favours either by wasting the last four years sabre rattling rather than expend energy on preparing for a no deal exit. All bets were on their “Trump” card and getting a trade deal with the US. Now that Biden has won, it’s clear that option is no longer a given. With no aces left to play, I would wager a deal is more likely now than not, albeit more on the EU’s terms.
Reverting back to Pandit Ji’s sublime words, the “future is not one of ease or resting but of incessant striving so that we may fulfil the pledges we have so often taken and the one we shall take today. The service of India means the service of the millions who suffer. It means the ending of poverty and ignorance and disease and inequality of opportunity.
The ambition of the greatest man of our generation has been to wipe every tear from every eye. That may be beyond us, but as long as there are tears and suffering, so long our work will not be over.” It is time to do the right thing Prime Minister. Put away the talk of sovereignty, vanquishing the EU or dispatching gunboats into the channel – less focus on saving Christmas and more on preserving our global standing and people’s livelihoods. It’s time to be a proper leader and put the Nation first before party, personal ambition and greed.
Views expressed above are the author’s own.
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