The world’s first democracy in chaos

The United Kingdom is the home of the world’s first democracy,,,,, but if you are watching the fiasco unfold in the UK today over the vote to leave the European Union (52% to 48%), known as “Brexit,” you might wonder what went wrong. First, let’s sketch out a very brief history, but the reader who wishes to understand the full details should further research, as space does not permit this article to go into such detail. 

England’s long march to democracy began during the reign of King John (1199-1216) when he was forced to sign the Magna Carta (1215). Unfortunately, after signing under duress, he refused to abide by it as it stripped the Kings of his almost limitless powers, and this lead to a civil war, known as the first Baron’s War.

However, after John’s death in 1216, the reason for this short war died with him, but over the next few years the barons were incensed by King Henry III’s demands for extra taxes and by a nationwide famine (which today could be lack of work) and this lead to further unrest and the formation of the first parliament, it being summoned in 1264.

In the mid 1600’s (and maintaining brevity) England had another major civil war, which was essentially between the crown and the parliamentarians; this war also included Scotland and Ireland. The result was the defeat of the King (Charles I, who was executed) which lead to the formation of a republic, known as the Commonwealth of England. Though Charles II was later invited to return to the throne, parliament’s victory established the precedent that the King couldn’t rule without the consent of parliament. This lead the nation towards a formal parliamentary monarchy.

Skipping through history, and another brief “revolution” which lead to the removal of James II (an overt Roman Catholic), who was replaced by William III (William of Orange – a Protestant), who was married to Mary (daughter of James II – also a Protestant). England had rejected the Pope under Henry VIII in the 16th century and many in England were unhappy with James II (not so in our neighbouring Scotland or the majority of Ireland). This lead to further conflict between England and Scotland which continued for quite a few years after the Act of Union in 1707 (where the English and Scottish parliaments merged together to form Great Britain). The followers of James II were known as Jacobites.

This “religious” conflict was the actual reason for Freemasons (who were just evolving) to include in the first of the Charges of 1723 that all religious discussion during their meetings is forbidden, as both Roman Catholics and Protestants were equal members, and this would have disturbed the harmony of the lodge. Later, of course, this included all monotheist  religions, as all Regular Freemasons believe in one God, which is one of the ancient tenets of Freemasonry. Well, you didn’t really think I could present an article with no mention of Freemasonry, did you?

So, we arrive at today, and the utter chaos our democracy and union has entered. As we began this article, so shall we conclude it, with the now infamous word, “BREXIT.” But prior to the vote on membership of the European Union (EU), in 2014 Scotland had a vote for Independence, to break up our union after over 400 years. This resulting outcome was to reject Independence, but the Scottish Nationalist Party (SNP) won’t accept this and want another go to break up this nation. From 1969 until the late 1990’s, Northern Ireland had their own “civil war,” where the IRA were using terrorist tactics in oder to unite the whole of Ireland. The Irish peace accord, known as the Good Friday Agreement, brought peace at last to this beautiful land. This was made a little easier as we are all members of the EU and free movement of trade and citizens is at the heart of the EU, so no border was required to unite this disunited nation (Northern Ireland is part of the UK, whilst Southern Ireland is an independent state), this conflict goes all the way back to 1688/9, when James II led Jacobite sieges of Derry, the second of which lasted 105 days, which was relieved by William III on August 1 1699. (Apparently we have very long memories.)

In 2016, for reasons most of us do not understand, the Conservative government held a referendum over membership of the EU; to remain a member or to leave. As stated above, over the whole of the UK 52% voted to leave. Simple, you may think, but the rules allowed a 2 year period to debate and conclude the deal on leaving. It should be noted here though, both Scotland and Northern Ireland voted to remain, whilst the English vote (where the majority of our citizens reside), voted to leave. The “divorce” agreement was meant to be concluded on March 29, 2019.

However, this entire episode has proved far to difficult for our elected representatives, who are deeply divided and not simply along party lines. The first attempt at a deal was scuppered by parliament no less that 3 times. This was accompanied by a general election, prior to which the Conservatives had a reasonable majority, after though they needed the assistance of coalition, they tried to work with the Democratic Unionist Party (DUP) of Northern Ireland.

Confused yet? You, me and the rest of the citizens of the UK are too.

After the third rejection of this “deal,” the Prime minister resigned, and the conservatives elected a new leader. The new leader stated that we would leave the EU on October 31st, deal or not (aimed at putting pressure on the EU). This date was totally rejected by the oppositions parties in Parliament. The first “deal” included a clause that forced the UK to remain in the EU until an arrangement was concluded ensuring the Irish border remains open, as in the Good Friday agreement. This was unacceptable to many as there was no defined end the this, which was know as the “Backstop.” The new Prime Minister agreed a different deal with the EU, this one placed the border where customs checks, etc, were to take place between Northern Ireland and Great Britain and still leaving the Good Friday agreement in tact. This meant, if agreed by parliament, we could finally leave the EU. As you may imagine, this was not accepted by the DUP, the government’s partner. However, this deal was accepted by a majority in parliament, but then the opposition parties, one who firmly want to remain, the other can’t seem to make up their minds, decided they needed to debate this “deal” at length, with the view to make many amendments, which possible would be reject by the EU. They demanded yet a further extension to the March 29th 2019 date (until Jan 31st 2020). 

Now, I could go on, but if you have read all the above, I am sure your head is spinning as much as mine is after writing all this chaotic goings on in the world’s oldest democracy, so suffice it to say, well done Lebanon, a short, sharp but peaceful shock has so far concluded in finding a way out of your current predicament. You will see from above, England’s woes started with a greedy king 800 years ago, passed through religious turmoil and is continuing in utter chaos.

May I hope and pray that the new arrangement for the future of the jewel of the Middle East, Lebanon, continues in peace and concludes with Lebanon showing this old and tired democracy how it’s done today.

© Copyright 2019 Al-Khabar/Stephen Froggatt all rights reserved

About Steve

Steve is part of the publishing team of Al-Khabar. He was initiated into Neptune Lodge 5150 EC In 1986 and completed his third degree by being exalted into Neptune’s Royal Arch Chapter in 1989; he also enjoyed two successive years in the Chair of KS in 1993/4. He has also enjoyed being a Mark Master Mason and a Royal Ark Mariner. He has been honoured with the position of Past Provincial Deputy Grand Registrar. All the articles are his own and represent no Official Masonic Body

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