LIAM Fox, whose official title is the Disgraced Minister of State for Adam Werritty, has an ambitious plan to strike trade deals with former British colonies after Brexit. Sadly for Liam, his amnesia about the evils of Empire has led him to believe that former British colonies hold some measure of affection for the UK, instead of remembering that the reason so much of the map was coloured red was because of all the blood that Britain spilled.
His plan to strike trade deals with Commonwealth countries has been dubbed Empire 2.0 by sceptical civil servants who have a rather more realistic view of the world than the one Liam sees through his Union Jack-tinted sunglasses. We now have a Government whose idea of the post-Brexit future of the UK is the plot of Star Wars. Liam is clearly angling for the role of ruthless trader Jabba the Hutt, although rumour has it that has already been promised to Michael Gove since he would need to spend far less time in make-up.
Naturally, the idea of Empire 2.0 was thoroughly ridiculed on social media. The Empire Strikes Flak, you could say. Britain is now very firmly in the grip of the dark side of the farce. This sort of nostalgic apology for racism is at the heart of every Brexit proposal.
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Liam said recently that the UK is the only country in Europe which doesn’t need to bury its 20th-century history, drawing a convenient cut-off date that allows him to quietly bury all the genocide, mass murder, exploitation, rape, despoilation, pillage and destruction that Britain was responsible for in the centuries that went before.
You know, little things like the Irish Famine; the genocide of Native Australians; the reduction of India from one of the richest countries in the world to one of the poorest; the theft of land and resources from Africa; and other tiny wee instances of things that don’t sully the history of Britain as long as you look the other way and ignore them.
The history of Britain in the 20th century however, well that’s just grand. It’s unsullied. It’s a spotless record of bunting-bedecked good, unlike that of the shameful Danes, Swedes or Czechs. Britain’s 20th-century history is absolutely impeccable as long as you overlook the Amritsar Massacre, the Bengal Famine of 1943 when the British authorities chose to believe that there was plenty of food available in Bengal despite abundant evidence to the contrary, leading to the deaths of between 1.5 and four million people. Then there’s the Irish and Indian partitions; white rule in South Africa; concentration camps and torture in Kenya; the mass deportation of the Chagos Islanders; institutionalised sectarianism in Northern Ireland as a means of maintaining British rule; setting off the chain of events that has led to the Israel-Palestine dispute; and on and on in a litany of disgrace that would make any serious student of British history acknowledge that the UK has no moral high ground from which to lecture anyone.
Britain was, of course, very much on the side of the good guys during the Second World War, but then we were up against your actual Nazis. Citing Britain’s role against Hitler as evidence of the UK’s unalloyed goodness is a bit like claiming that you’re really a good guy despite the fact you’re a serial wife-beater who made a living stealing bread from the mouths of orphans – because you once helped beat up a child abuser.
Empire 2.0, the Revenge of the Brexsith, comes in the week that Indian historian and politician Shashi Tharoor publishes a new book called Inglorious Empire, which critically examines Britain’s imperial and colonial past. It’s a story that isn’t taught in British schools, and it’s a story of exploitation, theft and atrocities.
Liam Fox is the perfect exemplar of the historical amnesia Shashi Tharoor describes. It’s not just that Liam’s Empire 2.0 plan is ridiculous because it is deaf to historical truths, it’s also ridiculous because it is blind to modern economic and political realities. Commonwealth countries used to have preferential deals with the UK, but then the UK left them high and dry when we joined the EU. Those countries now have their own trade deals with the EU, and they’re not about to put their access to a market of 500 million people at risk to help out an old colonial master which has done them few favours.
The British Empire was the opposite of the free trade that Liam claims to espouse. It was an exercise in creating captive markets, and imposing duties and tariffs on colonised nations in order to enrich Britain. Apparently British High Commissions in Commonwealth countries will now seek preferential trade deals saying, yes, we’re terribly sorry about all those massacres but they were just a misunderstanding. We’re sorry about abandoning you when we joined the EU, but do have some innovative jam and cake. The French love our cakes and don’t worry about that Empire 2.0 thing, we just meant it like the biscuit.
Britain’s attempt to seek preferential trade deals with countries it once colonised and exploited is symptomatic of Brexit. The entire exercise is an exercise in Empire nostalgia, a hankering back for the days when Britannia ruled the waves. That power was built on the back of the poor and dispossessed of the colonies, and the poor and oppressed in working class slums within the UK. Tories like Liam seek to bring it back and call it Free Trade. He might be a historical illiterate, his problem is the rest of us aren’t. The Empire is dead and so are the UK’s pretensions to be anything other than a middle sized European nation with very limited influence. The harsh realities of Brexit will expose that. The emperors of Brexit have no clothes.