From the White Cliffs: an introduction

This blog is interested in British politics in general. However, in the run up to the EU referendum on June 23rd 2016 its main concern will be Britain’s place in Europe and the arguments to be made for Leave and Remain. Before entering into the debate, it’s worth clarifying why this blog is called: ‘From The White Cliffs’.

Beautiful and imposing, many see the White Cliffs of Dover as symbolising Britain and its independence from the Continent.  The Cliffs suggest a very British idea: that Britain might be a European country, but it is simultaneously apart from Europe. Listen to some British people and they’ll tell you they’re European. But others will say they aren’t, or at least that they’re British first, European second.

The peculiar British habit of believing that Britain is both in and out might seem contradictory. It’s certainly perplexing, and sometimes even vexing to our European cousins.  Nevertheless the idea exists, and it colours British views on the EU, the European Project of ever-closer union, and Britain’s place in all of this.

This notion helps explain the need for the EU referendum. It also helps explain why many British voters haven’t yet made up their minds. Online pollsters YouGov have asked members of the public which way they’ll vote, offering four options: ‘remain’, ‘leave’, ‘will not vote’ and ‘don’t know’. It found that roughly 25% of respondents chose one of these last two options.

In addition to capturing that peculiar British sense of identity, the White Cliffs evoke Britain’s history of resistance to foreign conquest for nearly a thousand years, and a suspicion of or méfiance envers the Continent which must have lasted even longer.

In a blog to do with the White Cliffs themselves, Historian and broadcaster Dan Snow had this to say:

“The cliffs welcome and reassure but they have roared defiance.  Despots like Bonaparte and Hitler have gazed across the narrows. The only site of their implacable enemy was the line of cliffs like barred teeth on the horizon, the manifestation of a stubborn island nation that would not be beaten into submission.”

Snow goes on:

 “There is nowhere better on this island to ponder our past, with its contradictory mix of cooperation and defiance, of Englishness, Britishness and Europeaness, than the meadows atop the White Cliffs.” 

To summarise, this blog is called ‘From The White Cliff’s because it’s written from these shores about these shores and their destiny. The other reason is that, as a landmark that the British identify as a symbol of their country, the White Cliffs invite British introspection and raise questions about what Britain stands for and what form its relationship with the Continent should take.

Those are questions the British must find answers to as the referendum date approaches…

 

(Special thanks to my friend Peter who helped me arrive at this blog’s name, and others who also gave some thought to the question!)