Britons must embrace a changing world

The Union Jack (bottom) and the European flag are seen at the border of Gibraltar with Spain.
The Union Jack (bottom) and the European flag are seen at the border of Gibraltar with Spain.PHOTO: REUTERS

I have always looked to the United Kingdom for inspiration. It has much to offer, but one problem remains - its fixation with the past.

For so long, this holding on to ancient pride has actually proven an impediment and divider, though its people were brought together as one when the empire was at the height of its power and glory.

That all started to unravel after World War II, as its already fragile commitment to the colonies began to break apart.

It has never been the same since.

The European Union offered some respite, and even new hope.

It meant the UK giving up its identity to a certain extent, a compromise of sorts, where the benefits of a larger market opened up all sorts of possibilities.

Then came the immigration issue, a hot potato.

It exposed the inability of the EU, if not the UK, to stem the tide.

That is why Brexit (British exit from the EU) came about, of course influenced by other factors as well.

It was essentially a cry for the UK to reassert control of its own destiny. But at what price?

Will it ever return the united to Kingdom? Not likely. In fact, it may only serve to exacerbate the break-up of the UK, with Scotland already wanting to try its hand again at separation and becoming independent.

This all points to the failure of a government to meet the expectations of its people. But is breaking away the answer? It is a frightening prospect, as no one can see what lies ahead.

There will always be a need for certainty. Thus, many of those who voted in the referendum for Brexit are now waking up to the reality, and wishing they could turn back the clock and reconsider their decision.

In Singapore, many of my British, more so English, friends are of the opinion that exiting was the right decision - one that makes sense, as it puts them back in the driver's seat.

They feel that this is the way forward, and that they will survive when it comes to deals and doing business with the rest of the world, in particular the Commonwealth of former colonies, for instance.

The relationships there have endured, even with the end of the British Empire, with Queen Elizabeth II, as head of the Commonwealth, making many significant trips during her 64-year reign.

That should stand Britons in good stead forging ahead. But everything is still left to be seen.

It is now up to Britain to assert itself, as it has done in the past. But its people must also bear in mind that times have changed, and the challenges to be faced are mounting.

Manoraj Rajathurai

A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on June 28, 2016, with the headline 'Britons must embrace a changing world'. Print Edition | Subscribe