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Last night’s narrow referendum result in favour of the UK’s exit from the European Union has left many who supported the ‘Remain’ campaign asking themselves whether they can stay in Britain, if doing so means being deprived of European citizenship and the right to move and work freely within the EU. Watching these events unfold, and hearing so many of my friends saying that they are considering exile, puts me in mind of striking parallels between the current situation of Remain supporters and the choices faced by Jacobites three centuries ago. In 1714 Parliament decided to adopt an alternative Protestant succession to the throne, passing over the House of Stuart and setting Britain on a course directly opposite to that desired by Jacobites. The old Tory Party, which in Queen Anne’s reign had supported the restoration of the Catholic Stuart claimant, James Edward Stuart, found itself permanently divided and out of government after the accession of George I. Not only were Tory policies out of favour; the very raison d’etre of the old Tory Party – loyalty to the legitimate monarch – was no longer an option in a changed political reality.
This morning I felt very much like a Jacobite must have felt on hearing of the Elector of Hanover’s succession; I didn’t want this; I didn’t choose this; and this is not just a government policy I dislike but a seemingly permanent change in the constitutional position of my country that squeezes my political identity as pro-European out of political reality. In 1714, thoughts of a Stuart succession, which had been seriously considered theretofore, became ipso facto treasonous, because a Hanoverian was on the throne. Yet the country was divided right down the middle; the evidence suggests that Jacobitism was very widespread in 1714, but enjoyed an especially strong following in Oxford and Cambridge and in intellectual circles. As is well known, in 1715 Scotland attempted to opt out of the Union with England into which it had been coerced in 1707, but without success. In the succeeding years, Scotland became the epicentre of Jacobite sentiment, but Jacobitism also simmered away in England as well, preparing for the day when the constitution of Georgian Britain could be overturned and the rightful king restored to his rightful place.
The continuing existence of English as well as Scottish Jacobitism is poorly understood, as is the fact that Jacobitism was more than just an argument over the succession to the throne. Jacobites wanted a European-style monarchy in which Parliament’s sovereignty was subordinate to the moderating influence of a monarch who stood outside commercial interests, and Jacobites saw England’s prosperity as lying in alliances with Catholic European powers. Hanoverians, on the other hand, wanted a monarch subject to the sovereignty of Parliament and a Britain focussed on the development of its colonial possessions beyond Europe. Jacobites after 1714-15 were compelled to choose between exile outside Britain or quiet subversion within it; they had no possibility of standing for public office when their beliefs undermined the constitutional foundations of the Hanoverian British state.
The Jacobite exiles of the eighteenth century were nothing new; in 1691, Irish supporters of James II’s campaign in Ireland, the ‘Wild Geese’, had been compelled to enter the service of France and Spain. In 1707 the admirals of the Royal Scots Navy had entered the service of Sweden and Russia. However, most English Jacobites had been content to live under the rule of William, Mary and Anne; living under the Elector of Hanover, whose claim to the English throne was very tenuous indeed, was a different matter, especially when the Tory Party had been so comprehensively crushed in Parliament, and Englishmen were expected to pray for the new king in church every Sunday. Those Jacobites who did not choose exile created a subculture of dissent, often focussed on coffee houses and clubs. Jacobites intrigued with the exiled court of the Stuart monarch, advocated Jacobite ideas, and dreamed of a better tomorrow – ready always to respond in case a French-supported Jacobite invasion called them into action.
Remainers today are faced with similar choices to the Jacobites. One option is to conform to the new political reality, and accept that Britain will leave the European Union – it is quite obvious that some formerly ‘Remain’ politicians have already decided on this. Another option is to seek citizenship in another EU country – and the sharp rise in applications for Irish passports shows that this is being chosen by some. The third option, which it seems Scotland is choosing, is secession – just as it did in 1715. The fourth option is political dissent and a campaign for Britain to re-join the EU. Just like the Jacobite cause, at this dark moment the idea of Britain re-joining the EU seems like a fantastic dream; and those of us who believe in a future for Britain as a European nation seem like staggeringly idealistic dreamers, even to ourselves. But it is worth remembering that the Jacobites who had been crushed in 1715 came astonishingly close to victory in 1745 – so close that George II packed his bags and got ready to flee London. It was only lack of resolve and unity that caused the disastrous Jacobite decision to turn back at Derby.
The saddest result of this referendum, in my view, would be to see formerly staunch Remainers shrug their shoulders and acquiesce to a new perceived political reality of Brexit Britain – in which ‘we are all Ukippers now’. There are times for holding fast to ideals in the teeth of opposition, and this is one of them; we must retain faith in Britain’s future, somewhere further down the line than we had hoped, as a European nation. If that means exile, secession, or sedition – then so be it.