What was that, my Lord?

Rather than drawing a new line and taking a lead in European affairs after they joined the bloc, the British stuck to their nostalgic dream of reliving the past

Lord Ashcroft referred to his country as Britain and not Great Britain
Lord Ashcroft referred to his country as Britain and not Great Britain

Last Tuesday an opinion piece in The Times of Malta signed by Lord Ashcroft, who is familiar with Malta, tried to impress the Maltese press that Brexit will certainly not put an end to the friendship between Malta and Britain

Lord Ashcroft referred to his country as Britain and not Great Britain. Last time I entered the UK, through Manchester airport, there was a sign saying: You are entering GREAT Britain – with the ‘great’ in larger letters, as if it was making a point – not very subtly I said to myself. Thoughts of Fascist and Communist countries using such signage for propaganda purposes crossed my mind – but this was the democratic United Kingdom!

Lord Ashcroft repeated the mantra that the main motivations behind the pro-Brexit vote were the ‘principle’ that decisions about the UK should be taken in the UK; that leaving offered the best chance for the country to regain control over its borders; and that remaining would leave the UK with little say over how the EU expanded its membership or powers.

Many moons later, everybody knows that all these three reasons were fake news.

What impressed me more, however, was the sugary and nostalgic way in which Lord Ashcroft described the 200-year-old historic friendship between Malta and the UK. No doubt over history, emotional bonds between Malta and the UK developed and became quite strong but describing this bond as ‘an alliance lasting more than 200 years is a gross distortion of history – even worse than the fake reasons attempting to explain why the UK should leave the EU.

In truth for most of these 200 years, it was a relationship between colonialist and colony – with all decisions taken by the British Government solely in the interest of the British Government and its military endeavours. This meant using Malta as a staging post between the UK and India ever since the opening of the Suez Canal plus a very strong military presence in Malta. That some of these decisions were also beneficial to the local Maltese population is not in doubt – but this was obviously an unintended consequence.

Still, perhaps, the most telling point of Lord Ashcroft’s contibution was a Freudian slip giving away the real motivation behind Brexit when he wrote that the British ‘never had much of an emotional connection to the EU itself.’

History shows that Britain always profited from wars and disputes between different European Countries – always siding with the underdog to ensure that no country dominates Europe. With the EU, this is no longer possible and the UK found itself in an emotional backwater. Rather than drawing a new line and taking a lead in European affairs after they joined the bloc, the British stuck to their nostalgic dream of reliving the past.

In this, they have done much more harm to themselves than to anybody else.

It is ironic that last Wednesday, the day after Lord Ashcroft’s piece was published in Malta, the House of Lords inflicted an embarrassing defeat on Theresa May’s government, challenging her refusal to remain in a customs union with the EU after Brexit. Hardline supporters of Brexit see this as a betrayal of the project. They want to leave the customs union so that Britain can run its own independent trade policy.

By a vote of 348 to 225, the Lords supported an amendment to May’s Brexit blueprint, the EU withdrawal Bill, requiring ministers to report what efforts they had made to secure a customs union by the end of October.

It is the first of several defeats the May’s government is expected to suffer in the House of Lords over the remaining stages of the debate in coming weeks.

But the British ‘never had much of an emotional connection to the EU itself.’ That is the problem!

May has promised that Britain will leave the European Union’s single market and customs union after it quits next March so that the UK can forge its own free trade deals. By choosing to target the customs union, the peers have touched on one of the main flashpoints in the Brexit debate.

The Opposition Labour Party in the UK says it would want a new customs union if it was in charge of the Brexit negotiations. May’s trade minister, Liam Fox, and others see such a deal as anathema if it prevents London from negotiating its own trade deals.

A customs union that sets external tariffs for goods imported into the EU, and allows such goods to flow freely, would offer a solution to the problem of ensuring no return to a hard border in Ireland.

The only other possibility for keeping the Irish border invisible after Brexit is the EU’s “backstop” option, which would keep Northern Ireland in the EU customs union and parts of the single market. That would imply erecting a border between Northern Ireland and ‘mainland’ Britain, which May considers unacceptable.

The problem would disappear if the government decided to keep all of the UK in the customs union.

But the British ‘never had much of an emotional connection to the EU itself.’ That is the problem!

Well done

The decision taken by the Maltese Church to hand over for fifty years a property worth €8 million to the Hospice Movement is one that should be praised by everybody – whether one likes the Archbishop’s tweets or not.

The building is to be converted into a state of the art palliative hospital by 2021 for people suffering from terminal illness. I understand that the government will be partly funding the running of the facility.

I consider the Hospice Movement one of those NGOs who silently work assiduously in their field without too many publicity trappings – a real example of Christian charity and solidarity with humanity.

Every year, 1,800 persons are diagnosed with cancer in Malta. This number is on the increase. The Hospice Movement realises that it is not just the people who are diagnosed with cancer and other terminal diseases who need treatment.

That is why bereavement support to relatives is also an integral part of the services provided by the Hospice Movement. 

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