The British army, marching in step or performing drills, is a truly impressive sight. Every item of uniform is clean and shining, every boot hits the ground in exact step with comrades. Even the shouted commands ring with precision. So too the aerial displays – the RAF’ s Red Arrows aerial manoeuvres are heart-stoppingly glorious, fly-pasts are done with perfect timing.
The British House of Commons is also impressive to the point of intimidation. We saw it last night during those various votes: four officials step up to the central table in the Commons, bow, then one of their number reads out the result of the vote. There’s a shout of “Unlock!” Then one of the four moves swiftly to the Speaker of the House in his robes and passes him the figures. The Speaker then repeats the results and shouts “The Ayes/Nos have it!” Then he repeats the repeat.
But behind the façade not everything is glorious. The British army which is without parallel in square-bashing is the same British army which, this day forty-seven years ago, attacked and killed fourteen innocent people in broad daylight. Its officers and all the might of the British army and state were then used to lie about what had happened for over forty years. Behind the highly-polished boot, brutality.
Likewise the House of Commons. “My Right Honourable Friend” and the Mace and the Speaker’s raised position – behind all these last night we saw a prime minister who signed a legally-binding deal with the EU in December 2017 and who declared it was the only possible deal for the UK – this same Prime Minister last night voted against her own deal, and declared she was on her way to Brussels to get the backstop removed. This despite the fact that the EU had told her yet again, a few hours before her House of Commons performance, that the deal which had been put together would not be re-opened. In short, we saw a British House of Commons that appears to have lost all sense of reason and reality.
At the back of Brexit lies a notion of a once-glorious British empire, bringing civilization and light to a primitive world. The majority of British people, it appears, have bought that whopper and squeezed their eyes tight shut against the brutality and savagery with which the Empire’s rule was imposed.
Ask them in Kenya, in Malaya, in Ireland about the British Empire.
One final irony: Winston Churchill, repeatedly put forward as the symbol of English bulldog independence, in fact was explicitly in favour of European solidarity. And his declared greatness is a mask for the war criminal he was, guilty of the deaths of millions.
Age-old rituals, precise marching and Churchill pre-eminence don’t really hide political incompetence, ruthless cruelty and genocidal racism.