First the End of Empire, Now the End of Britain?

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First the End of Empire, Now the End of Britain?

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I can still remember when the news came over the radio. It was a Sunday morning in late January 1965. Sir Winston Churchill had died.

His funeral was the following Saturday. He was only the second commoner in the history of Great Britain accorded a state funeral, normally reserved for royalty. The first had been for the duke of Wellington, the military genius who thwarted Napoleon’s plans for world conquest at the Battle of Waterloo in 1815, thereby ushering in a century of Pax Britannica.

Sir Winston had defeated an even greater evil, Hitler’s Third Reich. He didn’t do it single-handedly, of course, but without him the outcome could have been entirely different.

I remember the silence after the funeral. It was the only time I can remember all the television and radio stations closing down in honor of the great old man to whom Britons owed so much.

People were truly thankful that Winston Churchill had led them to victory in World War II-at a time when everybody else seemed inclined to compromise with
Nazi Germany.

Churchill rejected the honor of a dukedom and turned down the opportunity to be buried in Westminster Abbey along with many other famous Britons. Churchill’s funeral was, for Britain, the end of an age.

Ironically, his death came at the end of a 20-year period that had seen the nation reject just about everything he stood for.

Postwar Britain

It had started 20 years earlier, shortly after VE Day. With the European war ended, Churchill called an election. Almost everyone thought his Conservative Party would win. People the world over were shocked when the results came in: The Labour (socialist) Party won by a landslide. Although grateful for Churchill’s role as a wartime leader, people had decided they wanted change; they longed for a different world. They didn’t want their young men fighting wars in far-off places they had never heard of, nor did they want them coming home to low-paying jobs or unemployment.

After universal acclamation as the British lion that roared in defiance of Hitler and the man who had led Great Britain to victory, Churchill appeared to be headed for a win. But, seemingly, it was time for Britain’s rapid decline to begin. The prophet Daniel reminds us that it is God who “removes kings and raises up kings” (Daniel 2:21 Daniel 2:21And he changes the times and the seasons: he removes kings, and sets up kings: he gives wisdom to the wise, and knowledge to them that know understanding:
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). The same God who had given Britons its victory took away the empire He had given them, the multitude of nations promised to Joseph’s son Ephraim (Genesis 48:19 Genesis 48:19And his father refused, and said, I know it, my son, I know it: he also shall become a people, and he also shall be great: but truly his younger brother shall be greater than he, and his seed shall become a multitude of nations.
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The next few years saw massive changes, including the nationalization of industries (steel, railways, coal mines) and the institution of a government-run medical system. To concentrate on these radical reforms, the country turned its back on an empire that had built up over the course of 400 years. Britain granted India and Pakistan independence in 1947. By the time of Churchill’s death the major colonies were gone. Britain had, to quote American statesman Adlai Stevenson, “lost an empire and not yet found a role.”

It might have been different if Churchill had won that pivotal election. He was an empire loyalist. His love of history taught him that Britain’s security lay with its multitude of nations it had built up gradually since the time of Queen Elizabeth I. Later, after he won the 1951 election as prime minister at the time of the accession of Queen Elizabeth II, he talked of a “new Elizabethan age” that might surpass the first in greatness. But it was not to be.

Britain had embarked on a new course that continues to this day. With the British Empire gone, it was Britain’s turn to be dismantled. The present Labour government has set the course.

The abolition of Britain

A thought-provoking book on the subject by British writer Peter Hitch ens, The Abolition of Brit ain, contrasts the country at the time of Churchill’s funeral with the nation 32 years later at the funeral of Princess Diana. By his own account it is as if he is looking at two different countries.

Outside the British Isles people are confused at what constitutes Britain and where England, Scotland, Wales and Ireland fit into the equation. At one time all four nations were separate entities. Their eventual union came about over a long period.

England conquered Wales during the time of Edward I in the 13th century. Edward proclaimed his son the prince of Wales, emphasizing that Wales is a separate principality but was to be administered as a part of England. For 700 years the heirs to the British throne were given the title “prince of Wales.”

Scotland and England (with Wales) united later. When Elizabeth I died, in 1603, she left no heirs. Historically, Scotland had often allied itself with France against England. It was time for the two countries to unite so this could never happen again. Upon her death her cousin’s son, James VI of Scotland, became King James I of England. James gave the country its new name, Great Britain (and was instrumental in giving the world the King James Version of the Bible). The new flag was nicknamed the Union Jack.

The two kingdoms were administered separately, but they had the same monarch. A century later (1707) they fully united under one parliament, giving Scots a share in the benefits of the growing empire. Another century later the Irish parliament was abolished, and the United Kingdom of Great Britain and Ireland formed (1801).

Reversal of direction

The dismantling of the kingdom began 80 years ago when most of Ireland was given its independence as the Irish Free State, theoretically still subject to the crown. In 1949 the Free State became the Irish Republic, severing its tie with the United Kingdom.

The six counties of Northern Ireland that have remained within the United Kingdom (U.K.) have been strife-torn for more than three decades. Although in recent years strenuous efforts have been made to negotiate a permanent peace, the problem remains virtually insoluble. At some point it is likely that another “reform” government in London will force a change on the province because British governments since Churchill’s time have eventually given in to terrorists in every disputed territory. With increasing support for Scottish and Welsh nationalists, the present British government, led by Prime Minister Tony Blair, came to power in 1997 promising “devolution.” The two ancient Celtic peoples would acquire their own parliaments and be responsible for their own internal affairs. London would still conduct foreign policy. Both Scotland and Wales now have their own assemblies and are increasingly calling for full independence.

Some of the English, meanwhile, are resentful that they do not have their own parliament. Scots, Welsh and Northern Irish members still sit in the House of Commons in London and can vote on legislation that affects the English people, but the English people do not have a say in the internal affairs of the Celtic nations around them.

Meanwhile, the European Union (EU) is busy fulfilling its dream of an ever-tighter union. The Irish Republic has benefited from its membership in the EU, ironically partly subsidized through Brussels by U.K. taxpayers. This has reduced some fears of Irish unity in the North. The South has always been poor, the North far wealthier, so even Catholics are somewhat apprehensive of unity with the South-but not any more.

Polls show the English as increasingly weary of the EU. Scottish nationalists, however, see the EU as increasing the likelihood of Scottish independence. No longer would the five million people of an independent Scotland not make it economically on their own. Within the EU they would prosper, just like Ireland and other small countries. Similar sentiments are evident in Wales.

In coming years the English could find themselves outside of a politically unified EU, with the Scots, Welsh and Irish inside. Queen Elizabeth I’s worst nightmare would have come true, four centuries later, of an England surrounded by hostile nations in alliance with the continental powers.

Historians such as Norman Davies think that none of this matters. In his recent book The Isles he reminds readers that England at one time was physically a part of the European landmass. At other times it was a part of Europe. It was the westernmost province of the Roman Empire from A.D. 43 to 410, a span of almost four centuries. The English church was a part of the Roman church for almost 1,000 years.

The Plantagenets in the Middle Ages ruled England as well as parts of France, spending most of their time in the bigger and warmer part of their territories.

But Paul Johnson, another British historian, sounded a warning in the pivotal year 1972 (between the British Parliament’s vote to join Europe and Britain’s accession the next January): “Disunity has always proved fatal to the offshore islanders.” ( The Offshore Islanders was the title of his book dealing with Britain’s relationship with Europe throughout history.) In other words, the disuniting of the United Kingdom has always proved fatal, enabling hostile powers to invade the country. Why should it be different this time?

Biblical wisdom holds true: “Every kingdom divided against itself is brought to desolation, and every city or house divided against itself will not stand” (Matthew 12:25 Matthew 12:25And Jesus knew their thoughts, and said to them, Every kingdom divided against itself is brought to desolation; and every city or house divided against itself shall not stand:
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New generation, new outlook

A new generation is in power now.

Mr. Blair, British prime minister, prefers to identify with a new age. He is the first prime minister who does not remember Winston Churchill. In a speech just before the election that brought him to power, he described himself: “I am a modern man. I am a part of the rock and roll generation-the Beatles, colour TV, that’s the generation I come fro m” (Peter Hitchens, The Ab olition of Britain, paperback edition, p. xix).

The current generation is a victim of revisionist history. It’s a history with an emphasis on multiculturalism, which downplays Britain’s role in frequently leading its empire into conflict against despotic European powers that wanted to conquer the world. At the same time, the revised version of history emphasizes the mistakes Britain made, negatively presenting the empire as a shameful era.

It’s also a generation that, as in the United States and other Western countries, has grown up with emphasis on material values, with little concept of morality and often lacking any knowledge of God. Many in the new government reflect these realities.

Writing of “the end of Britain” in Newsweek magazine (July 10, 2000), columnist George Will reminded readers of George Orwell’s dismissive comment on English intellectuals: “England is perhaps the only great country whose intellectuals are ashamed of their nationality.” (Orwell died in 1950 before this disease spread to the United States.)

Mr. Will added, “Many Europhiles are English intellectuals of the sort George Orwell despised because they despised their nation.” It’s hard to understand the hatred so many people have for the old values Sir Winston Churchill symbolized. “God, king and country” have no place in the minds of many, including many English intellectuals.

Does this matter to Americans and the rest of the world?

Let George Will have the final say: “What is vanishing, and not slowly, is the nation to which the United States traces much of its political and cultural DNA. Unless this disappearance is resisted, and reversed, soon all that will linger … will be a mocking memory of the nationhood that was the political incarnation of a people who (as has been said), relative to their numbers, contributed more to civilization than any other people since the ancient Greeks and Romans” (ibid.). GN