IT COULD take a generation to heal the present divisions in the UK, Gordon Brown, the former Prime Minister, said on Sunday.
Speaking at the launch of Christian Aid Week in Westminster, Mr Brown said: “There is a fundamental disagreement about what kind of Britain we are trying to be. And unless that is resolved it’s going to be difficult to move forward.”
The debate and division had been triggered by the EU referendum, he said. “I’ll be honest: my worry is that the divisions in our country are now so deep and so pervasive that it could take a generation for us to reconcile these differences, bring people together, and find a unifying vision of our country — and a sense of purpose and direction that takes us forward into the modern world.”
Mr Brown, a former Labour leader, argued: “There is one vision of Britain that derives from people’s misunderstanding of the Dunkirk spirit — this idea that we are better off when we stand alone, aloof and apart, sufficient unto ourselves, isolated if necessary, supposedly this independent spirit that means we are better off when we are disengaged from the world. . .
“There is a second vision of Britain: a Britain that is open, outward-looking, engaged and not disengaged with the rest of the world, a Britain that is internationalist in its outlook, a Britain that sees it has responsibilities not just to itself.
“I believe this is a choice we have to make as a country. And I cannot see how the issue of our future can be resolved unless we understand that, in a modern interdependent, interconnected world, that to be outward-looking and not inward-looking, to be engaged and not disengaged, to be internationalist and not narrowly nationalist, is the only way forward.”
He also used the launch to defend the international aid budget. It was under threat, he warned, because of this debate about what being British meant.
“We’ve got to argue back against people who say that aid is unproductive, aid is wasteful, aid is money going to the wrong people, aid is somehow inefficient — when all the evidence is that aid is well used and even more necessary, if we’re going to deal with fundamental problems that no decent citizen in Britain would tolerate if they saw what was happening first-hand.”
He spoke of how he had known the work of Christian Aid through his father, a Church of Scotland minister. His mother had collected for the charity. He called it one of the “great national institutions”.
“Christian Aid has achieved a reputation and acknowledgement by the British public that is a great achievement indeed. . . And it shows that social movements that bring about change are built on moral foundations.
“I’ve got a very personal interest in Christian Aid because I will always remember the mountain of red envelopes that my mother was responsible for.”
The focus of this year’s Christian Aid Week is maternal health in Sierra Leone. Mr Brown argued: “Hope is found in the 10,000 churches involved with Christian Aid Week, the 50,000 collecting red envelopes, in the many doctors and nurses in Sierra Leone saving lives. One circle of empathy binds us all.”