“Swallow your doubts and take a pew in the reformed national church of Brexit…”

This needs to be blogged, just for the record. It’s Rafael Behr, who’s been on fire for some time at the Guardian.

Not the burning of heretics type on fire, but his reading of that quarter of history is pleasingly precise. He goes back to the last of the Tudors for his exemplar: the unfanatical Virgin, the first Elizabeth…

This is nothing less than a reformation in the Church of Conservatism, with the authority of Brussels cast as a modern-day Rome. Cameron tried to manage the old schism but the suspicion lingered that his loyalties were divided; that he read from a vernacular Tory bible at home and then jumped on the Eurostar to kiss the papal commission’s ring. Now Theresa May stands before her party like Elizabeth I: a true, Protestant queen, their own Gloriana.

By temperament, the new prime minister is not a fanatic, and the obligation to staff a government with recruits from across the Tory spectrum precludes a purge of heretics. Like Elizabeth, May comes to power with no desire to make “windows into men’s souls”. If ministers want to practise a bit of Europhilia at home, that is their business, but they should not go confessing it in public.

It is striking how quickly this new regime has taken hold. Even quite ardent Tory pro-Europeans are suppressing private fears of an imminent economic blunder for the sake of party loyalty and ambition. Only a handful of backbenchers publicly sound the alarm about Downing Street’s apparent willingness to abandon membership of the European single market. They are dismissed by colleagues – including former remainers – as rogue elements weirdly bent on career suicide.

Misgivings about May’s European position are transmitted mostly in code. Some moderates look to the Treasury for hope, seeing in Philip Hammond’s warnings about Brexit-related “turbulence” a discreet genuflexion to the old religion. Downing Street, meanwhile, eyes George Osborne warily as a dangerous grey cardinal, banished from court but maintaining his old network of allies and spies.

And here’s the masterly end:

Tory pro-Europeans are in the impossible position of using rational argument against faith. If they counsel compromise on migration or the single market, they are accused of talking Britain down or trying to refight the referendum. They have few reinforcements across the political water. Labour is a shambles. The Lib Dems are puny in parliament. Scotland has its own distinct politics, and in Nicola Sturgeon its own remainian queen with her own independence agenda.

The Tories do not speak for all of England, but in the absence of credible opposition they feel as if they do, and will act accordingly. To those millions who did not vote to leave the EU, the message is clear: you are free to pray for whatever you like. Your antique rites will be tolerated. But do not expect your concerns to be represented in the court of Queen Theresa. Be humble instead. Swallow your doubts and take a pew in the reformed national church of Brexit.


  • chrisjones2

    Sadly he missed of the original outcome ……………………..with the historical example it worked out quite well and England went from near penury to becoming a great world power and trading nation under the reign of Good Queen Bess

  • mickfealty

    She inherited a fair whack from her granda, Henry VII. The rest she had stolen for her from under the nose and beard of Phillip II.

    PS, she wasn’t adverse to bumping off a troublesome Scots cousin when she needed to either…

  • mjh

    What’s all this about “near penury”? Francis Bacon records that Henry VII had £1.8m in his Treasury when he died – an absolutely enormous figure for the times. That king managed to establish himself, and England, as a pivotal power in European diplomacy. Moreover his laws greatly stimulated manufacturing and the development of English seapower. His reign also saw the voyage of John Cabot to North America, six years after Columbus reached the West Indies.

    Arguably the roots of England’s later status as a “great world power and trading nation” reach back well before the Reformation.

  • Zorin001

    I was thinking something similar earlier, Brexit really does seem to be a new religious dogma for some.

    And like some chthonic priesthood they are dead set on performing some grisly (economic) sacrifice to appease their new God.

  • mickfealty

    Henry, and his judicious use of the Star Chamber. But to be fair to Elizabeth, she did settle most of the disputes the reformation threw up.

    Key line: she had no desire to make “windows into men’s souls”.

  • mjh

    Elizabeth certainly ensured, through her policy and longevity, that privately held religious differences did not lead to public disorder or even civil war, as they so easily could have done. As a result economic developments, which were broadly beneficial, were allowed to take their course. No mean achievement.

    If Theresa May succeeds in imposing a similar level of outward conformity on the Conservative party she may well ensure that the economic and political consequences of a hard Brexit are similarly unhindered. If those consequences prove positive (which I do not personally expect) – she will deserve credit. But if those consequences turn out to be negative – she will carry a greater burden of blame.

  • Ciaran74

    She was the Medieval Putin.

  • Reader

    mickfealty: PS, she wasn’t adverse to bumping off a troublesome Scots cousin when she needed to either…
    Well, when it comes to queens, you know the saying – “there can only be one” (though I am told that is a misquote)

  • chrisjones2

    Well she had the example of bloody Mary in the recent past and the danger posed by the Cousins plots to bump her off.

    The fact that the cousin had had her own husband murdered and been kicked out of Scotland must also have prayed on her mind.

  • chrisjones2

    You argue like a Labour Chancellor. You forgot the debt side of the equation

  • LiamÓhÉ

    This was what I was musing about when I said that NI and Scotland might be its Thomas More, though I was comparing more with the more decrepit Henry VIII than his belligerent but impressive daughter. The high culture of Gaelic Ireland and Scotland was practically destroyed over the next 100 years as the consolidation of this new England in hostile waters was prosecuted, finalised with Ireland being the last battleground of the Old Religion in the north of Europe. Hence, the land is filled with ruined monasteries and castles, and English, not Gaelic the common parlance in a cultural landscape that part-retains its Gaelic heritage. It is now possible that NI and Scotland for all but the most ardent converts to the new cause will be losers in England’s next ‘great’ project, albeit one that will not bring increased wealth or standing in the medium-term.

  • SeaanUiNeill

    Mick, “most” is an important qualification and that much quoted line needs just a little unpacking. While claiming not to wish for “windows into men’s souls” a number of her ministers were evidently rather less diffident regarding the examination of the hearts and entrails of Catholic priests:


    Of course the “Regnans in Excelsis” papal bull issued in 1570 by Pius V may be sourced as in essence making every adherent of Rome a potential traitor to Elizabeth, and every priest a political agent, but the sheer number of those executed after 1585 (when Gregory XIII’s sensible suspension of the Bull ended) must stand to qualify any suggestion that Elizabeth’s “tolerance” in actual practice can be in any way compared with of the kind of modern tolerance which was first attempted in the reign of James II with his suspension of the entirety of the religious restrictions on all his subjects with his Declaration of Indulgence, promulgated on April 4, 1687:


    “The declaration applied to Catholics, Protestants, Unitarians, Jews, Muslims, and people of any or even no faith.”

  • SeaanUiNeill

    Mick, sorry to be pedantic here, but Henry VIII spend all of his father’s horde very fast, which is exactly why he had to consider recouping (quite unsuccessfully) from the monasteries. Elizabeth spent much of her reign scrapping pennies, and this problem with very powerful subjects who were reluctant to fund the crown’s activities was the source of her much quoted “meanness”. The problem grew, and Charles I lost his hard less over his “personal rule” as his need for money, so perhaps we would never have seen Westminster become “mother of parliaments” had Charles been as careful in his spending as the girl who beheaded his grandmother.

  • SeaanUiNeill

    “Elizabeth certainly ensured, through her policy and longevity, that privately held religious differences did not lead to public disorder or even civil war”….

    Only if you were living in the south of England:


    John McGurk’s excellent book is well worth buying.

  • Kevin Breslin

    You are seriously blaming the rise of the British Empire on British Protestantism … Remind me why Islam is a bigger religion in the Commonwealth than Christianity.

  • chrisjones2

    Its equally possible that we may be gainers – the future is yet to be made

  • LiamÓhÉ

    Possible, but improbable.

  • terence patrick hewett

    Remember Kipling:

    When the Himalayan peasant meets the he-bear in his pride,
    He shouts to scare the monster, who will often turn aside.
    But the she-bear thus accosted rends the peasant tooth and nail.
    For the female of the species is more deadly than the male.

    When Nag the basking cobra hears the careless foot of man,
    He will sometimes wriggle sideways and avoid it if he can.
    But his mate makes no such motion where she camps beside the trail.
    For the female of the species is more deadly than the male.

    When the early Jesuit fathers preached to Hurons and Choctaws,
    They prayed to be delivered from the vengeance of the squaws.
    Twas the women, not the warriors, turned those stark enthusiasts pale.
    For the female of the species is more deadly than the male.

    Man’s timid heart is bursting with the things he must not say,
    For the Woman that God gave him isn’t his to give away;
    But when hunter meets with husband, each confirms the other’s tale —
    The female of the species is more deadly than the male.

    Man, a bear in most relations-worm and savage otherwise, —
    Man propounds negotiations, Man accepts the compromise.
    Very rarely will he squarely push the logic of a fact
    To its ultimate conclusion in unmitigated act.

    Fear, or foolishness, impels him, ere he lay the wicked low,
    To concede some form of trial even to his fiercest foe.
    Mirth obscene diverts his anger Doubt and Pity oft perplex
    Him in dealing with an issue — to the scandal of The Sex.

    But the Woman that God gave him, every fibre of her frame
    Proves her launched for one sole issue, armed and engined for the same;
    And to serve that single issue, lest the generations fail,
    The female of the species must be deadlier than the male.

    She who faces Death by torture for each life beneath her breast
    May not deal in doubt or pity — must not swerve for fact or jest.
    These be purely male diversions– not in these her honour dwells.
    She the Other Law we live by, is that Law and nothing else.

    She can bring no more to living than the powers that make her great
    As the Mother of the Infant and the Mistress of the Mate.
    And when Babe and Man are lacking and she strides unclaimed to claim
    Her right as femme and baron, her equipment is the same.

    She is wedded to convictions — in default of grosser ties;
    Her contentions are her children, Heaven help him who denies. —
    He will meet no suave discussion, but the instant white-hot wild,
    Wakened female of the species warring as for spouse and child.

    Unprovoked and awful charges — even so the she-bear fights,
    Speech that drips, corrodes, and poisons — even so the cobra bites,
    Scientific vivisection of one nerve till it is raw
    And the victim writhes in anguish — like the Jesuit with the squaw.

    So it comes that Man the coward, when he gathers to confer
    With his fellow-braves in council, dare not leave a place for her
    Where, at war with Life and Conscience, he uplifts his erring hands
    To some God of Abstract Justice — which no woman understands.

    And Man knows it. Knows moreover, that the Woman that God gave him
    Must command but may not govern — shall enthral but not enslave him.
    And She knows because She warns him, and Her instincts never fail,
    That the Female of Her Species is more deadly than the Male.

  • Lex.Butler

    Maybe you explain how Spain managed to lose its wealth and Empire with its obsession with religion using the Inquisition to peer into men’s souls.

  • Kevin Breslin

    Your chronology is way off, I mean the Spanish Empire hadn’t even conquered the large patches of the Americas when the Spanish Inquisition ended.

    Just on that topic, could you explain how the British managed to lose its wealth and Empire?

  • mjh

    You’re absolutely right there Seaan. But isn’t the new Conservative post-referendum orthodoxy centred on a new, more narrow, English nationalism? In that context it is only the English perspective which is pertinent.

  • mjh

    Which was?

  • Oggins

    Was that not highlander 😉

  • nilehenri

    historians are generally united on two things. queen elizabeth the first never ate in a mcdonalds, and she didn’t know how to configure routers. an article like this is interesting reading, but it doesn’t face the main truths.
    some parts of mrs may’s d̶e̶l̶u̶s̶i̶o̶n̶ vision do have precedent. politics based upon racial profiling met with varying degrees of success in central europe seventy/eighty years ago, and she could always start a war in a third world country to give the economy the jolly good kick up the back-side that it will need as they go it alone. current tory thinking would be considered outrageous in a mental instutution and will only end in tears but in the meantime it’s making for one hell of a show.

  • mickfealty

    Not all of it. I think you underestimate the profound job VII did on centralising power in England before his progeny got a houl of it and shook it down for his lunch money.

  • mickfealty

    I agree. but in terms of the current numbers it is one that must be taken seriously, if not quite definitively.

  • mickfealty

    There’s more than a touch of early Geoffrey Howe about your own argument there Chris too… 😉

  • SeaanUiNeill

    I had Henry VII’s “success” beaten into me by an exiled Bandon protestant history master fifty years back, Mick, something I’d need to try very hard to ever forget. While Henry VIII did not perhaps quite scrape the flagstones on the floor of his bullion room, he did spend his father’s horde like the proverbial sailor on leave, and over the latter part of his reign he was constantly looking for ways of replenishing his losses. Gloriana inherited the system of her grandfather, but also a nouveau rich class who were voracious, and quite demanding in their payoffs for putting up with a woman on the throne. But as you say, the boys from the west country developed a trade in intercepting the gold coming in from the new world.

  • Ben De Hellenbacque

    FYI, the Spanish Inquisition only ended with Napoleon’s conquest of Spain.

  • Kevin Breslin

    And I am truely grateful for that information, Merci. However Napolean conquered only part of Spain, and the Empire lived on to conquer large parts of the Americas, pretty much Latin America bar Brazil.

  • chrisjones2


    Oh surprise. A sensible deal to sort out the post Brexit immigration issue. And done by the two sovereign Governments working in cooperation. With no need for the Shinners contrived faux outrage demos or for our MLAs to claim even more expenses tea and Kit Kats on unnecessary meetings

  • chrisjones2


  • chrisjones2

    …and the reverse too…we have Brexit Millenialists that see the 4 horsemen in the sky, a plague of boils, end of civilisation, world war 3 etc etc

  • chrisjones2

    What a stupid comment.

    I am saying that after the reign of bloody Mary Elizabeth stabilised the country, fought off the attacks of Spain and France, dealt with all the plots of the Vatican and Phillip, helped protestants in Europe but didnt get so embroiled as to damage England, And left the country in a more stable state and with better finances

    Then the Stuarts buggered it up again

  • Abucs

    Spain’s mining of gold and silver from South America meant that it didn’t need to develop economically because it had an unsurpassable quantity of wealth to pay for everything it needed including ship fleets and armies. This is a bit like Saudi Arabia today with its oil.

    Unfortunately when the natural resources stop flowing the country quickly is exposed as a third world basket case. This is what happened to Spain and it is a warning today regarding the welfare state dependency.