Dear Prime Minister,
The great city of Belfast was home to a news conference on Monday which played significant part in the latest failure to make a breakthrough in seeking a post-Brexit UK/EU partnership. Accompanied by Nationalist pressures in Scotland and regionalist pressures in London, as well as the subsequent admission that “impact assessments” do not in fact exist, it served as the latest warning that on 23 June 2016 the people voted on a profoundly false prospectus.
The great city of Belfast was also, of course, home to the construction of the great ship, RMS Titanic. “It was fine when it left us” goes the local refrain! There is, in fact, some dispute among historians over some of the issues around its sinking in 1912. However, what is not in dispute is the ultimate outcome of its first and only voyage, nor who had ultimate responsibility for that outcome.
1,517 people were killed when Titanic sank, and the consequent damage, suffering and grief in some ways still lives with us in what is now a post-industrial city and a post-industrial country. The scale of the disaster is such that many people can still recite the name of the person ultimately responsible – Captain Edward Smith.
For amid all the debate about what happened on that fateful voyage, one thing is clear. When Captain Smith received the warning of icebergs ahead, he should either have stopped or changed course.
Perhaps it was the ludicrous notion that the ship was unsinkable, perhaps it was the idea that he had to get to New York ahead of schedule, perhaps it was pure Imperial bravado – but whatever the reason was, Captain Smith ignored the warnings and his name now lives on in infamy. Whatever else he achieved in his life, he alone was responsible for ploughing on regardless, and he alone was responsible for the immense grief and suffering thus caused.
Now, you are the Captain. The warning lights are flashing. To plough on regardless, whatever those around you and in the media may be saying, is not a risk; it is to maintain a course you know will result in disaster (with life boats only available for some in first class). You can see the iceberg as well as I can, and you know as well as I do that, like Captain Smith, you in fact have only two legitimate options now to avoid immense suffering – you can either stop and reassess, or you can change course.
History will of course judge you solely by which option you choose – providing leadership to prevent suffering, or standing by and allowing it to be caused. You can choose to go down in history like Captain Smith – or you can do the right thing.