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A Brit Reviews the UK’s Eventual Withdrawal from Europe

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Part 3 of 3

By John Broven

When I started this series in March 2019, I wanted to give U.S. readers a Brit’s inside view on Brexit. The term has now become such common currency over here, rather like the Latin phrase “quid pro quo,” that all I need explain is that Brexit refers to Britain exiting the European Union, which it duly did Jan. 31 of this year. On the same date the U.S. Senate rejected further witnesses in the impeachment trial of President Donald Trump (R). It was hardly a red-letter day for western politics.

John Broven Photo by Diane Wattecamps

After publication of the first two articles, I was approached by residents of all age groups at the Stony Brook railroad station, in a deli, at a mall, in a coffee shop, at a party, even at an outdoor art show. Everyone expressed an intrigued interest in Brexit and, it’s fair to say, concern for my English home country. What on earth was going on? Why indulge in such potential self-harm?

When I left you with my June article, the United Kingdom and EU had agreed on another revised exit date, Oct. 31, but with no parliamentary majority the way forward was still far from clear. “Will there be a general election, second referendum, another EU extension or a hard no deal?” I asked.

It came to pass there was a general election Dec. 12 and a further EU extension to Jan. 31, with no second referendum or precipitous hard deal (to date). With the U.K.’s withdrawal from the EU, what happened in the interim?

A third prime minister in three years

For a start, on July 24, Boris Johnson achieved the prize he had wanted from his days as a privileged aristocratic youth at Eton College and Oxford University: the prime ministership of the U.K. After being elected as leader of the Conservative Party (also known as the Tories), he took over from the hapless Theresa May (C) who was unable to deliver on her promise to leave the EU after three years in the hot seat.

Brexit had thus claimed another victim, making Johnson the third prime minster since David Cameron (C) fell on his sword after a dismal and inept Vote Remain campaign during the June 2016 referendum.

Without a working majority, Johnson was confronted by a parliament determined to ensure that if Brexit happened there would be no hard deal. The new prime minister even tried, unsuccessfully, to suspend parliament for five weeks in an effort to stifle debate and ram through the withdrawal agreement by Oct. 31. Queen Elizabeth II was inadvertently embroiled when she dutifully signed the prorogation request of Johnson, who made the flimsy pretense of needing time to prepare for the Queen’s Speech, but the U.K. Supreme Court ruled otherwise. I suspect Her Majesty was not amused. 

There was clearly a power battle being fought between parliament and the prime minister, reminiscent of the current war of attrition between Congress and Trump. 

The generally pro-Brexit Tory Party, with its band of rabid hardliners, was armed with the 52-48 percent Voter Leave victory of the 2016 referendum. Amid calls from the Brexiters for “democracy” to be respected and with a definite all-round war weariness in the nation, it was clearly going to be difficult for the main opposition parties — Labour, Liberal Democrats, Scottish National Party and the Greens — to overturn “the will of the people.” 

At one time, the charismatic speaker of the House of Commons, John Burcow, even invoked an arcane 1604 parliamentary principle to stifle a government motion. (Think about it, that’s 16 years before the Mayflower landed on our shores.) However, the opposition could not find agreement among themselves for a unified approach, even with voting support from 21 Tory rebels. This rump included former Chancellor of Exchequer Philip Hammond, Father of the House Ken Clarke and Sir Winston Churchill’s grandson, Nicholas Soames. Incredibly these respected establishment figures were thrown out of the Tory Party in petulant retribution. You see what I mean about parliamentary drama.  

With time running out, the EU begrudgingly extended the Oct. 31 deadline to Jan. 31 after a last-minute fudged agreement with Johnson over the vexatious Irish border backstop question.

December general election

Parliament was still in deadlock, but eventually a general election was called for Dec. 12. Campaigning on a resonating “Get Brexit done” ticket, Johnson won a huge working majority of 80 seats to break the parliamentary impasse. His Conservative Party brushed aside the Labour Party and Liberal Democrats, also Nigel Farage’s Brexit Party. Labour, in its worst general election result since 1935, ignominiously saw the demolition of its “red wall” in the industrial north of England, the traditional home of socialism. The Lib-Dems, under Jo Swinson, went all out with a remain message. Yet this bright young leader couldn’t articulate on the stump the benefits of staying in Europe and she even lost her own parliamentary seat. 

The main opposition winners were the Scottish Nationalist Party, under Nicola Sturgeon, which swept Scotland. Watch out for a possible future referendum for Scotland to leave the U.K. and become a member of the EU. 

Richard Tapp, of Burgess Hill, West Sussex, added in an email, “Besides the Scottish Nationalists, the pro-EU parties in Northern Ireland also did well, at the expense of the pro-Brexit Democratic Unionist Party whose leader in Westminster lost his seat to the nationalists of Sinn Fein who campaign for a united Ireland — and so remain in the EU.” 

Johnson had targeted the disaffected, forgotten part of the nation — the provincial middle class as well as the working class — with a Trump-like populist message, just as the new prime minister had done beforehand with the referendum. The general election was a damning indictment of Jeremy Corbyn’s leadership of the Labour Party, both for his far-left policies and his “sit on the fence” approach to Brexit. 

Interestingly, there are concerns in the U.S. about the Democratic Party following the Labour/Corbyn route to self-destruction in the next election with a progressive socialist agenda. James Carville, President Bill Clinton’s (D) 1992 election-winning strategist, was particularly animated on the subject in the Financial Times and on “Morning Joe,” referring to the unelectable Corbyn by name.

Brexit is done

And so, with no obstacles in his way, Johnson “got it done” by signing a withdrawal agreement with the EU, meaning Britain officially left the union at the end of January after almost a half-century of membership. Brexit is now fully owned and controlled by the prime minister and his Conservative Party, with the background help of Dominic Cummings, the architect of the Vote Leave campaign’s victory in 2016. 

The coverage on BBC World News in Brussels revealed genuine European regret at the loss of Britain as a vital contributing member to the EU, including politicians from Poland and Sweden. Yet the expected party atmosphere in the U.K. didn’t materialize because the country was still split right down the middle — and it was raining on Farage’s celebration parade outside the Houses of Parliament. Financial Times columnist Simon Kuper had a perverse explanation for the low-keyed reaction: “On Jan. 31, many Brexiters spent their ultimate moment of triumph attacking elitist traitors instead of celebrating.” This revenge, he said, “is so much of the point of populism.” 

Those Brexit voters expecting a brand-new dawn, with a return to the glory days of the British Empire free of the EU yoke, will have to wait until at least Dec. 31 this year for all kinds of trade, security and legal negotiations to be agreed before the cord is cut. 

During this transition period the U.K. will continue in the EU’s custom union and single market, while still complying with EU rules (but without any more say in the lawmaking process in the European Parliament). Johnson has indicated there will be no extension, leading to the nightmare scenario of a possible no deal commencing Jan. 1, 2021. It will not be an easy negotiating ride.

I’m still of the view that a people’s referendum should never have been considered by Cameron on such a critical and complex matter, which will affect generations to come. His irresponsible bet was compounded by the Brexiters never explaining the downsides — and dangers — of leaving Europe, including diminished influence on the world stage. Already China is waiting in the wings.

Michael Hanna, of Hassocks, West Sussex, echoed my thoughts in an email on the night of Jan. 31: “In about two hours time Boris and his Gang will tear us out of the European Union on the say so of just 17.4 million, a mere 37 percent of the electorate. This is politically the saddest day of my life. For the last 47 years we have been members of the great European family of nations to which we should naturally belong. This has given us huge benefits which the Tory government is knowingly throwing away.”

With thanks for their on-the-spot observations to my British friends Roger Armstrong, Chris Bentley, Mike Hanna, Martin Hawkins, John Ridley and Richard Tapp. 

John Broven, a member of the TBR News Media editorial team, is an English-born resident of East Setauket, who immigrated to the United States in 1995. He has written three award-winning (American) music history books and is currently editing the first book on New York blues.

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Memorial Window in St. Peter’s Church, Rowley, England. Photo from Beverly Tyler

By Beverly C. Tyler

On our recent trip to Scotland and England, my wife and I visited the church in the village of Rowley that was the start of my Carlton family odyssey.

We knew that the Reverend Ezekiel Rogers was dismissed from the Anglican Church at Rowley for his non-conformist views. We also knew that Edward Carleton, his wife Ellen and son John were one of 60 Yorkshire, England, farm families, led by Ezekiel Rogers, who landed at Salem, Mass., in 1639 and settled at what they initially called Roger’s Plantation.

After the first season the name was changed to Rowley.

What we didn’t know was that on July 4, 1994, “Descendants, Friends, and Citizens of Rowley, Massachusetts,” dedicated a memorial window in the church in Rowley, England, “In memory of Rev. Ezekiel Rogers and company who planted the seed of a new church and community in Rowley, Massachusetts in 1639 A.D.”

We discovered this when we were listening to a BBC television show called “Who Do You Think You Are?”

In one episode, broadcast in 2008, Jodie Kidd, an English fashion model and television personality, discovered that she descended from one of the families that came to America with Rev. Ezekiel Rogers in 1639.

The program showed the memorial window in Rowley, England, and we vowed to go to Rowley on our next visit to England.

In 2007, we had visited Beeford, the village where Edward Carleton was born. This year, traveling southeast from Glasgow, Scotland, we stopped in Rowley on the morning of June 24.

We had contacted the Rev. Canon Angela Bailey, rector of Saint Peter’s Anglican Church in Rowley, and she arranged to have a church historian meet us at the church. We met historian Mervyn Cross and had a tour of the 14th century church.

The church is attractive both inside and out, and we were thrilled to see the stained glass window featuring Pastor Ezekiel Rogers, the ship that carried them to America, a representation of a few of the people who came with him, the Rowley Church in Yorkshire, England, and the present First Congregational Church in Rowley, Mass.

We were moved by the renewed and enthusiastic relationship between the two churches and the two Rowley communities that came together to heal the division that had separated them almost four centuries earlier.

My Carlton ancestors, one of whom dropped the “e” in the family name, eventually moved from Massachusetts to New Hampshire and then to Maine where they remained until my maternal grandfather, Guy Carlton, after marrying Margaret King, moved from Maine to Port Jefferson in 1909 to work as a carpenter building the Belle Terre Club. My mother, Blanche Carlton, is the second of their four children born in Port Jefferson.

Beverly Tyler is the Three Village Historical Society historian.

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A typical Highlander: The breed is well adapted to the extreme Scottish weather. Photo from Beverly Tyler

By Beverly C. Tyler

Scotland is a wonderful, wild and surprising place to visit.

My wife, Barbara, and I spent three days exploring The Trossachs National Park. We stayed in the village of Balloch at a bed-and-breakfast on a farm. George was a dairy farmer who had to sell his herd due to rising costs and lower milk prices. Sheila, his wife ran the B&B, Dumbain Farm, in a beautiful converted building that was the dairy barn.

The first day we drove to Luss, a 19th-century village that used to house slate quarry workers. Recognized as one of Scotland’s loveliest villages it is filled with many original stone cottages strewn with flowers and vines of every color and texture. We took walks around the village and through the farmland and former quarries around it. The paths are beautifully laid out and a delight to walk. We discovered a number of spoil heaps from the slate quarries; these remnants of the slate mining were clearly visible. In the afternoon we took a cruise on Loch Lomond. It was cold and cloudy but the scenery was spectacular.

The only downside was the almost complete lack of commentary. All the information you need to explore the villages, walks, hikes and lochs is on the website www.visitscotland.com.

The next day, Father’s Day (June 21), we drove through the incredibly beautiful Queen Elizabeth Forest Park to Loch Katrine. What superb vistas. We had a wonderful conversation on the loch cruise with a Scottish couple who were biking back from the other end of the lake. We saw a very pretty cottage built for Queen Victoria along the loch bank; she was visiting for the opening of the water supply from Katrine to Glasgow.

Unfortunately her 21-gun salute by the firing of cannons blew out all the cottage windows so she could not stay there.

We had lunch at the restaurant at the pier and dads were free for Father’s Day. We drove to Callander as the sun came out and walked a mile-and-a-half round-trip to Bracklinn Falls.

The water flows over and around gigantic slate stones that form walls around the falls. Along the walk we saw many sheep as well as long-haired Highland cattle, which are well adapted to the harsh climate. We had dinner in the oldest registered licensed pub in Scotland, The Clachan Inn (1734), in the village of Drymen.

The next day we left Dumbain Farm and drove to Glasgow, the largest city in Scotland. We enjoyed the Riverside Museum and the 245-foot barque Glenlee (1896), permanently moored alongside the museum.

The barque has a well done and interesting tour, with information on the 15-man crew and how they fared as seamen over the years on various ships. The Glenlee and thousands of other ships were built here along the River Clyde including the Queen Elizabeth 2, also known as the QE2. The decline of shipbuilding has left Glasgow with only tourism as a riverside industry, but it is now a vibrant city.

We had just time enough in the day to stop at the Kelvingrove Art Gallery and Museum and viewed exhibits on Glasgow’s history, among others. The museum is housed in a most elegant Spanish Baroque building.

Beverly Tyler is the Three Village Historical Society historian.

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The stark beauty of Glen Coe complete with a piper. Photo from Beverly Tyler

By Beverly C. Tyler

Scotland is a wonderful, wild and surprising place to visit.

A part of the United Kingdom, Scotland demonstrates an independent spirit, single malt whisky and haggis, a traditional food that defies categorization. Scotland has many wonderful heroes, and movies have been made about some of them.

Scotland also raised poets, writers and scientists as well as a number of kings, queens, lords and ladies, some of whom literally lost their heads. Growing up, I was thrilled by the adventures of Ivanhoe by Sir Walter Scott. Abbotsford, his home and gardens are an hour south of Edinburgh.

My wife, Barbara, and I have wanted to visit Scotland for a number of years, and this June we spent a week exploring some of the Scottish Highlands and the Trossachs National Park around Loch Lomond and Loch Katrine.

We drove a rental car from Manchester Airport to Edinburgh, where we spent the first three nights. We started the first day in Edinburgh by taking a one-day, 12-hour small-group bus tour to Glen Coe, Loch Ness and the Scottish Highlands.

It was a wonderful introduction to Scotland and we had a very knowledgeable and good-natured driver and guide.

We stopped at Glen Coe, where we took in the stark beauty and listened to a Scot playing the bagpipes. There, a most tragic and moving story was played out in 1692, when 38 men of the Clan MacDonald were massacred by the Campbells who had accepted their hospitality, on the grounds that the MacDonalds had not been prompt in pledging allegiance to the new monarchs, William and Mary. Another 40 women and children died of exposure after their homes were burned.

At Fort Augustus, we watched boats going through the three locks between Loch Ness and the canal that took them to the next lock. Loch Ness, reputed home of the mythical monster, and Ben Nevis, the highest mountain in the British Isles, are both scenes of landscape beauty. The weather adds to the overall effect.

In contrast, the next day, we toured The Royal Yacht Britannia, which was a favorite of Queen Elizabeth II. It is now permanently berthed in Edinburgh and the self-guided audio tour was the best organized. In the tea and lunchroom, we were treated like royalty and the story of the ship, the royals who lived on it and the men and women who worked on it was clear, informative and enlightening.

We walked the Royal Mile in Edinburgh from the castle to the Palace of Holyroodhouse. We especially enjoyed The Scotch Whisky Experience tour and learned a lot about single malt scotch.

We also enjoyed the gigantic Museum of Childhood and the John Knox House. We learned a lot about Knox, his life and his turbulent relationship with Mary, Queen of Scots. We also toured St. Giles’ Cathedral where Knox preached reform leading to the abdication of Mary.

We learned about regional differences in scotch whisky as well as a great deal about the relationships of the people of Scotland to each other and to the English. It is a turbulent history of a strong, self-reliant people.

The next three days we headed north and west into the area of the Trossachs National Park. This is one of the most beautiful areas of Scotland. We drove first to the tiny village of Balquhidder and along its narrow roads, often sharing them with bike riders. We then drove farther north to Killin, which is known for the falls that flow through the town and at one time provided milling power. Here and throughout Scotland and England are walking trails that go along lochs (lakes in England) and through fields, farms and villages. It was a delight for the eye and refreshing beauty for the soul. To be continued.

Beverly Tyler is the Three Village Historical Society historian.