Saturday, 30 March 2019

Brexit Britain, bitter and divided, should heed the advice and experience of its oldest of old men, Bob Weighton and restore its once greatest virtue : the art of compromise

Bob, who is the oldest man alive in Britain and was 111 years old this week, when interviewed in 2017 said : "If there’s anything that characterises the present world, it is the recrudescence of tribalism in Brexit, Trump, Putin." He was drawing attention to the fact that, in his long life he was seeing the 'recurrence of an undesirable condition' in the shape of the nationalism he had seen in the 1930's when he was a young man in his twenties.

Between his birth and today Bob has lived through two world wars, seen 21 prime ministers, five monarchs, the rise and fall of communism and fascism, the moon landings, the birth of the NHS, the transformative power of technology and his country convulsed in Brexit.

Prime Minister, Theresa May, invoked Article 50 for Britain to leave the European Union on his 109th Birthday in 2017, with a view to the country leaving two years later on his 111th Birthday. He said, at the time, he was a "bit irked" to be celebrating his 109th birthday on the same day Brexit was triggered and although he was "not enamoured" with all of the European Union's decisions and spending, he felt quitting was a "mistake." He said he did not regard Theresa May's signing of Article 50, as "a step forward at all" and joked : "She didn't ring me up to see what my reaction would be."

In the event of Britain's departure being postponed this week following Britain's failure to leave the European Union on his birthday this week, he said Brexit was "a total mess" and "my own feeling is that if there were defects, and there were quite obviously defects, we can negotiate on the inside rather than walking off the field with the cricket ball and saying 'I'm not playing'."

He has described himself as "very internationally minded", partly because his grandchildren and great-grandchildren are "scattered around Europe", including some in Germany. He said that Britain leaving the EU would be like a divorce : "You can't just walk away and expect it not to have any repercussions. It's not like resigning from a golf club because you don't like the secretary, it's more like a divorce with all of the heartache and recriminations that follow. However, you have to live with the way things are not the way you would like them to be."

He was not in favour of Brexit, he said. “I have a son who married a Swede, and a daughter who married a German. I flatly refuse to regard my grandchildren as foreigners. I’m an internationalist but I’ve not lost my pride in being a Yorkshireman or British. I’ve lived in a number of countries and I felt I was at one with the people there. You can make as good a friend with a German or an Argentinian or a South African as you can with the man next door.”

He has lived through “times that have been exciting, times when it’s been very scary, times when it’s been the dawn of a new day. At the moment, it’s a total muddle – you’ve got Trump, Putin, and political stalemate in Britain.”

"My experience is that, although you recognise differences and you have to do that to be realistic, it's no hypothetical matter, but in the end I found it possible to have the same sort of human relationships with with anybody else; different though they may be. And you've got to find a way of living together constructively. You have to live together in some way and you have to give and take and reach a reasonable conclusion. You can't live in a world where everything is perfect for you and destructive of somebody else's point of view. But if you want to know I feel is the outcome of all my experiences I would say that sums it up : 
It's far better to make a friend out of a possible enemy than it is to make an enemy out of a possible friend. 
This is something I have lived by throughout my life.”

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