By Owei Lakemfa
A NIGERIAN genius, Odia Ofeimun asked me a rhetorical question: “How does a minority, which takes control of the majority, retain power?” He answered: “By force or falsehood.” I added: “Or both.” Although he raised it within the context of the ethnocentric power relations in Nigeria, it is also true of Britain.
The Vikings from the Scandinavian countries of Sweden, Norway and Denmark for three centuries from 800 AD, poured out, attacking ships and raiding coastal areas, especially in Europe. They later forced France to cede the northern part of the country to them, which they named Normandy.
The Vikings had a sense of entitlement, so when the Anglo-Saxon (English) throne became vacant in 1066 following the death of Edward the Confessor, who left no heirs, Norwegian Vikings led by Harald Hardrada felt they had a right to seize the throne. But the invaders were defeated by the English led by Harold Godwinesson. However, the war-weary English were no match for a second invading Viking army, this time the Normans led by 38-year-old William, Duke of Normandy. William crowned himself, king of England on Christmas Day in 1066 and became known as William the Bastard or William the Conqueror.
Applying Ofeimun’s theory of how minorities rule majorities, history showed how the conquering Vikings/Normans established the British monarchy which subsist until today, ruled the majority English, brought Scotland and Wales and part of Ireland under their control and called the new territory, United Kingdom. It also showed how small Britain invaded 95 countries in the world, conquering and colonising vast territories, including India and Nigeria, singing “Rule, Britannia! Britannia, rule the waves!” and vowing the sun will never set on its empire.
But the sun actually set on it as the bruising Second World War saw the demise of the empire called “Great” Britain. A humbled Britain tried to join the European Common Market (now the European Union, EU) in 1963 and 1967, but then French President, Charles De Gaulle vetoed it. His argument was that Britain with its balance of payment problems, devalued currency, tradition of obtaining cheap food from all parts of the world and its “habits and traditions” was unfit to join the rest of Europe.
De Gaulle died in 1970, and three years later, Britain under Prime Minister Edward Heath, was admitted into the European Common Market. Forty nine years after De Gaulle blocked Britain, the country itself voted to exit the body in what has become known as Brexit. But in the last three years, Britain which had taken the democratic decision to exit the EU continues to dilly-dally rather than take a principled position.
That tells a lot about Old Britain which, to use a trite English expression, wants to eat its cake and have it; it claims to belong to the European Union without wanting to abide by its basic programmes. A major achievement of the EU is a common currency, the Euro, but Britain sticks to its British Pound. EU has a common visa, the Shengen, but Britain sticks to its own individual visa. Britain which had through the use of force, falsehood, cunning and unparalleled ruthlessness ruled, conquered, colonised or seized major parts of the world, including the United States, Canada, Australia, the Palestine and many parts of Africa, Asia and the Caribbean, in Brexit, exposed itself as merely a smart alec with a sense of entitlement.
Although it voluntarily joined a union which logically dictates that it must give up some of its sovereignty, Britain complained it was losing some sovereignty to the EU Executive and wanted it fully restored. While EU law allows free movement of member-country citizens, including the right to live and work in part of the continent, Britain sought to restrict the free movement of citizens from EU member countries, especially from Easter European countries like Romania and Poland.
While Britain gets a lot of services from the EU, including subsidy for its farmers, it complains that it is contributing £13 billion ($19 billion) annually to the EU. The Brexit supporters argued that it is better for Britain to directly control and utilize this contribution.
So Britain held a referendum on June 23, 2016 based on the question: “Should the United Kingdom remain a member of the European Union or leave the European Union?” The result was 17,410,742 or 51.89 percent voting Brexit and 16,141,241 or 48.11 percent voting to remain. The results showed that the primary force for Brexit were the English who voted 53.38 percent for exit and 46.62 percent to remain.
The only minority group that voted for exit was Wales with 52.53 percent for and 47 percent against. Scotland which is trying to secede from the United Kingdom posted an overwhelming 62 percent to remain, while 38 percent voted to exit. Northern Ireland with its restless Irish population who want to have unfettered access to the rest of Ireland, voted 55.78 percent to remain while 44.22 percent voted Brexit. Only 33 percent of Asian voters and 27 percent Black voters wanted exit, the rest voted for Britain to remain in the EU.
With the vote, Prime Minister David Cameron, who had campaigned to remain, resigned and his hardline Home Secretary, Theresa May who was also opposed to Brexit, replaced him, vowing to implement a programme she campaigned against. On March 29, 2017, her government invoked Article 50 of the Treaty on European Union, starting a two-year process within which Britain was to exit the EU. That was when the tantrums started. So when the exit date came, Britain remained undecided, with Mrs. May rushing a number of times to European countries and the EU headquarters in Brussels to beg for more time which she got under humiliating circumstances.
Although her three years in office has been consumed by Brexit, she has lost all votes in parliament on the issue. Brexit has become non-stop comedy in which Britain not only entertains on the world stage, but also popularises and coins all sorts of words and expressions. These include Brexit, Irish Backstop, Blind or Blindfold Brexit, Hard Border, Chequers Plan, No Deal Brexit, Hard Brexit, Soft Brexit, Slow Brexit, Leavers, Brexiteers, Brextremist, Brexiters, Lexiters, Brexiter, Remainer and Remoaner.
Exactly one week ago, the Prime Minister tearfully resigned. Theresa May wept in May for failing to achieve the Brexit mission she never had faith in; it is not her failure, but that of her country which placed responsibilities on a person who by speech, demonstration and vote showed clearly she was opposed to Brexit.
I would have campaigned for the Brexit entertainment to continue, except that it is diverting attention from serious global issues like insecurity, senseless wars, growing mass poverty, hunger and climate change.