England's Growing Isolation

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England's Growing Isolation

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A recent article in The European showed that "Britain faces increasing isolation as negotiations over the revision of the Maastricht treaty come to a head" (September 5-11). Nations on the Continent fear that "Britain's reluctance to accept any radical revisions in the treaty could still seriously inhibit the [treaty] process."

Before we consider the state of English affairs, we should sketch in some historical background.

The coming of the Conqueror

One of the most significant events in English history was the Norman Conquest, which followed the Battle of Hastings in 1066. England's King Harold was defeated by the armies of a Norman, Duke William, whose kingdom occupied what is now northern France.

From that point, for 400 years, England's kings, descendants of William the Conqueror, ruled not only England but parts of France. During this time they also acquired Wales, which became a part of the English kingdom.

One of England's greatest monarchs, Elizabeth I, died in 1603, leaving no heirs. Her nearest relative was her cousin Mary Queen of Scots' son, King James VI of Scotland, who was invited to London to become James I of England. James now ruled both kingdoms, which he named Great Britain. The whole island was for the first time then united under one crown. In the early 1700s Scotland and England formally united, with one parliament for the whole island.

To the west, Ireland had become an English possession under the reign of Henry II (1154-1189). In 1801 it formally united with Great Britain to form the United Kingdom. The full union of all the nations of the British Isles contributed greatly to the preeminence of the British Empire in world affairs during the 19th and early 20th centuries. The Scots and Irish served disproportionately in the military and were great colonizers, settling in British possessions throughout the world.

More than 100 years ago, after the Irish potato famine, which devastated the island, a predominantly Catholic Irish nationalist movement began, which led to independence for most of Ireland in 1921. The northern part of the island, mostly Protestant, opted to remain within the United Kingdom. Conflict continues in Northern Ireland, with the militant Irish Republican Army (IRA) agitating for a union of the whole of Ireland while Protestants insist on continued association with Britain.

England, with 45 million people in an area the size of Michigan, dominates the British Isles. Scotland, with 5.5 million people, is the second most populous area, while Wales has almost 3 million people. The Irish Republic's population is now more than 4 million, while Northern Ireland has 1.5 million.

England is the birthplace of the Industrial Revolution. With its greater population and economic strength, it has dominated the other peoples of the British Isles.

As in so many other areas, balance of power is changing with the U.K.'s continued membership in the European Union (EU), formerly the Common Market.

For almost 500 years, after the loss of its French possessions and its break from the church of Rome, Britain maintained its independence from mainland Europe, emphasizing ties with its colonies throughout the world. To ensure its freedom and prosperity, the country financed the largest naval force in the world until well into this century. Britain involved itself in European affairs only when specifically threatened or when a change in the balance of power on the Continent could ultimately threaten her interests. Britain's strength lay beyond the seas.

This all changed after World War II. That six-year conflict left Britain in financial straits and left the British people with no will to continue policing the world and ruling an empire. Decolonization followed. As American journalist Flora Lewis explained in her book Europe: A Tapestry of Nations, "empire did not last so long for Britain as the distorting effect of nostalgia makes it seem. It did change the nation's sense of itself, and the loss of its vast domain was disorienting" (Unwin Hyman, London, 1988, p. 61).

Searching for solutions, by 1962 British leaders were openly advocating closer ties to Europe, significantly altering the country's direction. On January 1, 1973, Britain entered the European Economic Community, now the European Union. Britain's entry into the six-nation organization encouraged others to follow suit.

Membership in the union now stands at 15. It is the most powerful economic bloc on earth, with a gross national product more than double that of the United States.

A quarter of a century later, perhaps half or more of the British people are disillusioned with EU membership. Continued interference in the country's internal affairs from what are perceived to be heavy-handed bureaucrats in the European capital of Brussels angers British voters frustrated at their loss of independence.

The British tend to identify with their cousins across the Atlantic and throughout the Commonwealth who speak English and share a common culture.

Pressure on EU member countries to commit to a common currency, thereby surrendering control of their own finances, leaves Britain and some other member countries feeling threatened and isolated. European panic over contaminated British beef hasn't helped matters. Even the European Football (soccer) Championships, held in England in June, brought out latent anti-European feelings, with one popular newspaper parodying Neville Chamberlain's 1939 declaration of war on Germany.

However, it is not British nationalism that is the main thrust of this anti-European feeling. It is, rather, English nationalism. Anti-European feeling is not shared by the non-English peoples of the British Isles, who feel that they have benefited from EU membership, which has helped them lessen their dependence on England.

For example, before membership in the EU, the Irish Republic depended on the United Kingdom for more than 80 percent of its trade. Today that dependence is down to less than 30 percent. Meanwhile, Wales has attracted massive investment from Far Eastern countries anxious to take advantage of low wages and easy access to the giant Euro market. In Scotland it's not so much a love of Europe as disenchantment with London's rule that encourages the Scots to look to Europe for independence from England.

Aware of a rising tide of Scottish nationalism, the British prime minister decided, in consultation with the queen, to return to Scotland the Stone of Scone (rhymes with spoon), or Stone of Destiny. The stone was used by the Scots in their coronation ceremonies before being seized and taken from Scotland 700 years ago by the English King Edward I (the same king depicted in the recent movie Braveheart).

The stone has sat under the coronation chair in London for hundreds of years. Successive monarchs have been crowned over it, including Queen Elizabeth II. Tradition has it that the stone was the one used by the Jacob described in Genesis 28. It is of great importance and historical significance to the peoples of Scotland and England.

Officially the stone is being moved from one part of the queen's realm to another and will be returned to London for future coronations. But the psychological effect of its return to the Scottish capital of Edinburgh may further fuel the fires of Scottish nationalism and possibly contribute to the disintegration of the kingdom.

Scotland isn't the only land dissatisfied with London's rule. A nationalist movement has been active in Wales for some time. Wales, traditionally a stronghold of the socialist British Labor Party, is disgruntled with 17 years of Conservative Party rule, which has left the Welsh feeling alienated.

Even some "loyalists" (Protestants) of Northern Ireland, still a part of the United Kingdom, have turned against London for what they perceive as compromise with the Irish Republic and terrorist leaders. Further attempts to bring peace to Northern Ireland through concessions could result in a militant Protestant backlash that could prove violent for Britain and the Republic of Ireland.

The English themselves felt consternation during the soccer-championship semifinal game between England and Germany. Newspapers reported that nonwhites throughout England watching the game in pubs supported the Germans over the English team, the result of built-up resentment against perceived prejudice.

An awareness is growing through Europe that Britain's membership in the EU enables small nations to gain independence while still benefiting from an attachment to a larger economic entity. This perception greatly contributes to nationalist movements throughout Europe, not least in the United Kingdom.

Rising anti-European feeling has led to a resurgence of English nationalism. Some Britons are now openly talking about pulling out of Europe, rather than going into the full the currency union scheduled for just three years from now.

If England does pull out of the EU, it could quite possibly find itself surrounded by unfriendly peoples, both on the Continent and closer to home. After centuries of building up its strong union and close ties with communities of like mind throughout the world, it would find itself dangerously isolated and considerably weakened. At the same time, the other 14 members of the EU will take steps that bring them closer to a full economic, military and political union.

Whether Britain stays in or comes out of the union, it no longer can influence the balance of power on the Continent. France and Germany are the dominant powers on the Continent. Both remain close to each other and value their mutual relationship more than their friendship with Britain.

The lessons of history are forgotten.

What it all means

The Bible reveals that God is the One who makes and unmakes nations. Their fate is not beyond His control. Jesus Christ noted that God is "Lord of heaven and earth" (Matthew 11:25). God is aware of the direction of international affairs and the plans and designs of
the nations.

God says through the pen of the prophet Isaiah: "Behold, the nations are as a drop in a bucket, and are counted as the small dust on the scales; look, He lifts up the isles as a very little thing" (Isaiah 40:15). Man's plans do not escape God's attention.

God is not intimidated by the activities of humans. "He brings the princes to nothing; He makes the judges of the earth useless" (verse 23). God is in control! That is why His people-those who have put their trust in Him-have nothing to fear.

His purpose is to bring about that period in future history that the apostle Peter called "the times of restoration of all things" (Acts 3:21). In biblical terminology the times of restoration are when the Kingdom of God will rule the earth.

To learn more about this promised era, and the events leading up to it, be sure to request our free booklet The Gospel of the Kingdom. GN