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What British Means

I went to a property auction today. It was a big one with several hundred lots of various types for large and small properties throughout the UK. Most of the buyers in a packed hotel conference room apparently originated from other countries (in that those I overheard were talking to each other in languages other than English). Without jumping to too many ethnic conclusions, almost all looked as though their origins were middle-eastern or Asian. But the people running the auction were all smartly suited London City types, and in particular I was struck by the auctioneer himself. He and the auction as a whole were quintessentially British.

What do I mean by that?

I can only describe the proceedings as well-organised, precise, thorough, good-humoured, respectful, and efficient. The amount of paperwork, terms and conditions, background checks on buyers and sellers, legal niceties and finance procedures added up to a pervading sense of  'don't mess with us' and 'trust us'.

The auctioneer himself was 'old-school' (including his tie and accent). He commanded authority and no-one questioned him. When noise in the crowded room increased above a background hum, a simple shush from the man stopped all chat. Stone dead. His gavel ruled supreme. One smack on the lectern said SOLD! And it meant the buyer now had a debt that must be paid and the seller had a property that was now owned by someone else. No ifs, no buts, the man banging the gavel had ruled. The process for transferring an asset from buyer to seller had been completed and both parties knew it was lawful, openly performed, witnessed, secure and sorted.

Now just imagine if the same activity had occurred for example in Russia or even India. All parties would have been suspicious of the others unless they'd personally known who they were. The British system meant the buyer and the seller didn't have to trust each other because both of them trusted the auctioneer and his team plus the environment within which they operated - the UK, its laws and their enforcement (police, courts and ultimately the military). They automatically trusted the auction because it happened in Britain and was conducted by Brits. They didn't know the auctioneer personally of course. Neither did they need to know anything about his employers. They just knew they could trust the players and the system.

And the same could be said about sports and art events, court procedures, share transactions, currency trading, betting, intellectual property protection, elections, even reality TV voting.

But surely most other states have similar laws, police, courts, military etc. Why do we and, I propose, every foreigner on the planet so trust the British version. The answer is reputation.

Britain built an empire around its law and the enforcement of that law. It's what the British Commonwealth still is. A group of nations sharing the same laws. Whether you agree with those laws or not, you know they will be applied with more rigour and precision than any other country in the world. Corruption is ruthlessly sought, exposed, excised and punished. Britain does not break the rules. The rules are sacrosanct. It's why so many sports originated or were formalised here. It's what we do. Create and maintain standards (which itself means a flag).

And we do it because we are taught from an early age that rules are designed to incorporate the ethics of 'fair play'. We have an expression here if something isn't fair despite obeying the letter of the rules. We say it's just not cricket. Meaning even if the rules allowed something to occur, if it's not right, then it shouldn't be allowed to happen. Indeed that's the reason we don't have a constitution. Our laws are used by judges to help them determine whether something is right or wrong. Previous judgements are used as precedents to help resolve future disputes or cases where right and wrong is not clear-cut according to the letter of our laws. It effectively allows a degree of flexibility where judges judge and don't mandate.

I'm not in any way suggesting that the rule of law and the strength of the judiciary in countries like France, Germany, Sweden or the USA are not equal to or possibly even superior the the UK's. What I am suggesting is that they don't have the same reputation supported by history as the UK enjoys. Who is more universally trusted? And with a disreputable person like Trump asking you to trust a flag, would you rather trust an organisation overseen by him or by the Queen?

So irrespective of what happens a result of Brexit, there will always be a Britain that stands for fairness, respect, reliance, compliance, authority and above all, trust. And I think, although I must admit I'm guessing because I'm not one of them, that is why so many people stood up and said we want to become more British and not less so. Maybe they have a point, and it's actually what the world needs when self-interest seems to be more important than stability, reassurance and trust.


  1. It won't keep British factories open and if everything is going to become automated anyway, your British fair play and justice will be offered by stateless machines.


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