Ignore the pump: Thanks to Boris Johnson, Britain has never been so united | Martin kettle

Yesou only had to watch a few minutes of the official opening of parliament to know that in Britain an old order is being passed. Most of the comments have focused, naturally enough, on the Queen’s enforced absence and Prince Charles’s deputizing. But the process of change we are witnessing is not only about individuals, it is also about our governance. It’s about our politics – and it’s about the nation itself.

The rituals and robes of a grand opening look familiar. But they are an invented tradition of the imperial era, like the building in which they take place. What we saw on Tuesday dates from 1852, during the reign of Queen Victoria, who herself only opened parliament intermittently. Most of today’s uniformed pipers were created for Edward VII in 1902.

It’s important to understand this, because it’s a reminder that things don’t always have to be that way. It can be tempting to fall into the trap of thinking that British institutions are an established order. In fact, they are always changed. If they are not, they find themselves in danger. It’s a point that Britain has reached many times in the past, including in 1689, 1707, 1832 and 1918, and has reached again in the 2020s.

In the case of the monarchy, it is often said that Prince Charles understands this. He is portrayed as favoring a lean monarchy. But it’s unclear how far he’s willing to go in other regards. Does he intend, as king, to open parliament in full admiral’s garb, as he did on Tuesday? Does he still hope to be an activist monarch, as he sees it, or an meddling monarch, as critics are likely to make? Is he ready for the Commonwealth countries to replace him as head of state? These things will also reshape Britain’s view of the monarchy.

But these issues are also part of a wider shift in the way Britain sees itself. Local elections last week were understandably seen as a test for Boris Johnson. By that very valid criterion, its curators not only took a collage, but starkly glimpsed the worst election collages likely to come soon. Yet the government program read this week does little to change that. It reflects a party that does not agree on what it stands for, does not know where its priorities lie and therefore has no answers to the increasingly pressing questions about who this country is and how which it must reflect in its institutions.

As a result, the UK seems to simply be testing itself, if not destruction, then certainly something close to dissolution. This happens daily in Scotland, where the SNP is constantly trying to maneuver itself to win a referendum position, and sometimes also in Wales. But this is particularly evident in Northern Ireland, where the idea of ​​​​the United Kingdom has always faced its greatest challenges over the past century.

Sinn Féin’s success last Thursday in the Northern Ireland Assembly elections was more than a symbolic victory. It was a real one, in political and demographic terms. It is not likely to lead to a single Ireland anytime soon. But it reset the old balances. Today, trade unionism feels, looks and, above all, finds itself in a new and weaker place in Northern Ireland. We need to take stock and rethink.

Yet at this very moment, the Johnson government seems determined to ignite a wheel of fire in Irish and European politics. By tearing up its own Brexit deal with the EU, the UK is not only antagonizing most Irish opinion, the White House and the EU – none of which is a big step during a war European – it also tears its own credibility a little more. as a trusted signatory to all international trade agreements, treaties and conventions.

Furthermore, it throws a false lifeline to the most intransigent strains of trade unionism just as the strategic failure of the DUP has been dramatically exposed at the ballot box. Instead of using its influence to sway the DUP ‘to attract rather than antagonize’, as former Ulster Unionist Party leader Alex Kane demanded this week, the Johnson government is instead giving the DUP a free pass free to adopt an intransigent and absolutist position.

The approach will not work on any level, not even to rally support from the Conservative Party. He will certainly not gain new support in Ireland, north or south, except within the DUP. Fintan O’Toole called it a “mutually fatal take” this week. Ultimately, this should also build support for Scotland to break from the union.

A nation’s conservatism has never seemed more remote than it does today. However, so do other shared ideas about Britain. We are still called the UK. But the local elections have once again laid bare a nation-state whose union is weakening, whose rival visions are sharper than ever, and whose kingdom is even uncertain.

David Miliband said it well in a speech last weekend, when he said a modern idea of ​​Britain was stuck between “the obsolete and the utopian”. It is a country, argued Miliband, which badly needs a new national reform project. This case will only get stronger as the pressures on the union and the constitution intensify. Yet we are still led, to our common doom, by a Prime Minister whose only project is himself.

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Edward L. Robinett