As a recently naturalized American who hails from the UK, it’s been one heck of an experience being back in my home country for the first time in three years. What was once a land of hope and glory is clearly now sliding towards becoming an inauspicious island under Boris “Brexit” Johnson — indeed, probably the only island more insufferable than Love Island. There’s a palpable difference between the gloominess of a Tory government and the optimism that Joe Biden has restored to the US ever since he took office.
I suspect the Conservatives know that their governance robs Britons of hope. Why else would the Tory government encourage school children to sing a song celebrating the UK during last week’s “One Britain, One Nation” Day? If I didn’t know better, I’d have guessed the “strong Britain, great nation” lyrics were written by a new genetic combination of a Cornish caveman and a Downing Street aide who interned with the Communist Party of China.
To be fair to the Tories, there’s not much reason for hope. The promise of a successful Brexit will never materialize and so Britons are staring down the barrel of a trade deal with the US which means so much more than more lax food regulation. But in many ways, Britain has been abiding by a trade deal with the United States for a long, long time. The problem is that this trade pact entails Britain importing the worst parts of American culture.
The Britain I grew up in didn’t fetishize the military the way Americans do. But now passengers arriving at Heathrow get to skip to the front of the immigration queue if they’re active-duty military. This jingoism feels peculiarly un-British and it’s especially silly considering that the UK military is now a shell of what it once was. There are fewer soldiers in the British Army than there are officers in the New York Police Department, for instance, and the only waves that Britannia now rules are the hand gestures from the Queen (even that might not last much longer, given that the Queen is 95 years old.)
Of course, Britannia was also the name of the royal yacht, which was decommissioned in 1997. Now the Tories are trying to revive the concept of a royal yacht by proposing a new vessel which would cost £200m. The UK doesn’t have the funds to feed hungry schoolchildren — at least not without a lengthy back-and-forth with a footballer — and who knows where that £350m per week for the NHS every got to, but apparently pennies for a royal yacht are just lying around Downing Street. Ignoring the plight of the poor is peak Reagan administration, and paying dangerously little attention to what’s going on in schools is quintessentially American.
Although the Tories can’t be held responsible for importing white grievance masquerading as news — a.k.a GB News — they are eschewing rich American democratic traditions, like an elected upper chamber, in favour of less savory, “born in the USA” anti-democratic voter ID laws — which truly is a solution in search of a problem since voter fraud is not an issue in Britain (or the US, for that matter). But perhaps I shouldn’t be too surprised that the UK wants voter ID laws because voter ID laws are like the Royal Family: totally unnecessary and a huge waste of energy and cash. A nation of enthusiasts for Harry, Will and a statue to their mum is clearly going to go in for other such nonsense.
One thing that stands out about the UK is how equitable British institutions are — or at least how equitable they try to be. Despite the Tories’ despicable attempts to defund national treasures like the BBC, the NHS and the British Museum, these remain institutions that are fundamentally predicated on equitable access for all people and not just those who can afford to pay.
And so this Sunday, on Independence Day, as a British citizen, I’ll celebrate British culture and institutions that have helped the UK maintain her independence. But as an American citizen, I’ll also celebrate America’s independence. Because despite being British, I can always get behind any people seeking severance from an oppressive colonial overlord — especially when he’s lost the plot as clearly as modern-day Britain has.