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Will the United Kingdom Break Apart?

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In this year of the Queen’s Diamond Jubilee and the Olympic Games, the flag of the United Kingdom has been in evidence everywhere. There is nothing more potent and iconic as a symbol of the Union than the Union Jack, as it is called.


But is it possible that the United Kingdom and the Union Jack will one day be torn asunder? Will Northern Ireland, Wales, Scotland and England go their separate ways? What do God and the Bible tell us about the future of the United Kingdom?

Union Leads to Empire

England is the powerhouse and dominant force within the United Kingdom. It was England that, through colonization and the pragmatic exercise of political, military and religious power, formed the Union over some two-and-a-half centuries. As England begat the Union, so in turn the Union begat the Empire over the following two centuries.

From the complex fusion of Briton, Celtic, Jute, Anglo-Saxon, Viking, and Norman blood, “the British” summoned the energy, drive and ambition to exert themselves on the world scene. At its height in 1922, the British Empire encompassed around a quarter of the world’s land surface and peoples, and was the largest empire in history. British historian Niall Ferguson summed up Britain’s impact on our modern world: “For better, for worse—fair and foul—the world we know today is in large measure the product of Britain’s age of Empire” (Empire: How Britain Made the Modern World, page xxv).

But that age of empire is now long gone, and the United Kingdom is but a shadow of its former self. Impoverished by the exhaustion of two world wars, Britain lost its empire. Today, it is mired in massive debt, with much of its sovereignty surrendered to the European Union it joined in a quest for economic survival.

The Union Drifts Apart

In Empire: What Ruling the World Did to the British, author Jeremy Paxman commented: “‘Finding a role’ has (along with not going bankrupt) been the main task of every British government for the last sixty years. In a strange way, the one place which has yet properly to decolonize itself is Britain” (p. 3). Paxman, a respected British Broadcasting Corporation journalist, is questioning the survival of the United Kingdom itself!

So, if it was England that created the United Kingdom through the exercise of political, military and religious power; and if by these same qualities the United Kingdom created the Empire, will the dissolution of the Empire eventually unwind the United Kingdom itself? Is Britain at risk of breaking up into its constituent parts?

Union has progressively been weakened though internal factors such as high levels of immigration and the dissipation of the Protestant state church, and external influences such as the U.K.’s membership of the European Union. Nationalist sentiment has always been present in each of the four constituent countries, but these voices have lately become stronger, putting greater pressure on the Union to unravel. Around the turn of the millennium, the U.K. government devolved power to national assemblies in Scotland, Wales and Northern Ireland. The possibility of devolving more power to the English regions was also discussed, but no further action was taken at that time.

In 2011, many were taken by surprise when the Scottish National Party swept to majority power in Scotland, on a platform of Scottish independence from the United Kingdom. A referendum on this issue is promised for 2014—a promise that has sent shockwaves through the U.K. establishment. Queen Elizabeth II is reportedly concerned for the future of her realm. Politicians and public are divided on the issue. It signals both political and business uncertainty. No one quite knows where such a move could lead.

Within Scotland, might the island counties, Orkney and Shetland—having rather different agendas—decide to separate from Scotland? Might a growing Republican presence in the Northern Ireland Assembly be emboldened to try to reunite all of Ireland outside the United Kingdom? And should Wales demand even more say over its own destiny? Finally, if the other regions of the United Kingdom have their own national assemblies, should not England have its own as well, in order to take more direct control over its destiny?

Even some British Crown Dependencies are growing more restless. Both the Channel Islands and the Isle of Man are seeing their precious tax haven advantages attacked and progressively eroded by European Union dictates. As the EU continues to take more national powers to itself, will the United Kingdom be able to resist the pressure to submit to European Union policy decisions?

Finally, if the United Kingdom is progressively torn apart into its constituent parts, will those parts remain peaceful? Or will old antagonisms and divisions resurface?

The Context of Union and Empire

One vital key to understanding what is happening is that the British people are the modern-day descendants of Ephraim—part of the ten “lost” tribes of ancient Israel. Britain’s royal House of Windsor can trace its roots back to ancient Israel’s Throne of David. How Britain and its throne came to global prominence is a remarkable and compelling story.

When the descendants of Jacob failed to uphold the terms of the covenant God made with them at Sinai, He sent into captivity first the northern nation of Israel and later the southern nation of Judah. Over time, even after their release, the tribes of Israel lost sight of their biblical ancestry, as God “sifted them through the nations” (Amos 9:9).

History tells us that the ancient Israelites migrated northwards to the area of the Caspian Sea. Then, via successive migrations, they journeyed northwest to Western Europe and to the British Isles. From there they went on to colonize the United States, Canada, Australia, New Zealand and many other areas. The story of the British Empire is thus the remarkable saga of ancient Israel’s diaspora. It is testimony to God’s faithfulness and His covenant promises to Abraham, Isaac, Jacob (Israel) and Joseph (see Genesis 48:11–22). Ancient Ephraim (modern-day Britain) He made a great company of nations, and Manasseh (the United States) He made a great nation. God also promised to bless and vastly multiply these nations (Genesis 12:1–3; 24:60; 26:3–5), and to give them victory over their enemies (see Genesis 22:16–18; Luke 1:70–75).

But God’s promises were contingent upon obedience to Him. If these peoples would not obey God, He would progressively remove their blessings and their greatness. Is that not what we see happening before our very eyes? Very soon, we may well be witnessing the dissolution of the United Kingdom, marking the end of some 450 years of Empire.

The Empire convinced many that the British were somehow special. But this is the wrong view, a backwards view, to take. Rather, it is because of Britain’s biblical heritage that God has given the nation special favour. It is God—not the best efforts of the British—who gave Britain its Empire, power and strength. And, ultimately, it is God who has been taking all of this away. Britain’s very survival depends on its ability to discover—and live up to—the role God intended the nation to fulfill, a role clearly laid out in the pages of Scripture.

To learn more about this fascinating history, and what it means for the future of Britain, the U.S. and the other modern descendants of ancient Israel, please request our booklet The United States and Great Britain in Prophecy. It is a formidable story of such extraordinary potency that it has the power to change not only the nation of Britain, but your own life as well!

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