The Suicide and Conquest of Britain Revisited

Migration without integration threatens cultural norms

19th January 2023
David Martin Jones

The sixth century monk, Saint Gildas the Wise, would find much to recognise in today’s divided Britain, writes David Martin Jones.

What, wretched man… is it given to you…to keep the charge committed to you against such a series of inveterate crimes which has spread far and wide, without interruption, for so many years?

The mid-sixth century Welsh monk, Gildas Sapiens (Saint Gildas the Wise), asked himself this question, as he observed the Saxon invasion and subsequent descent of Roman Britain into barbarism. Gildas wrote De Excidio et Conquestu Brittaniae (The Suicide and Conquest of Britain) as both a warning to posterity and an explanation of how a wealthy, civilized, Roman province declined into what historians once referred to as the Dark Ages.

Given the current divided and depressed state of Britain, Gildas’s commentary on how and why Roman Britain disintegrated is perhaps worth recalling. The problem Gildas identified in the mid-sixth century, that also besets the UK today, was the growing separation of the isles into divided ‘nations’ and the threat to its integrity posed by unlimited migration from Europe. Over a period of half a century, Gildas argued, migration turned into an invasion that fundamentally transformed the British Isles, and not for the better.

If Gildas returned today he would be alarmed, but not entirely surprised, to learn that official figures show that more than 10 million people living in the UK were born overseas. In the year 2022 alone, the UK attracted more than half a million migrants, more than twice the number entering the country the previous year. In the same year, some 40,000 migrants from Albania and Afghanistan arrived from France, often on boats organized by criminal gangs. Somewhat predictably, The Financial Times deemed the problem insoluble. Interestingly, this was the same conclusion Gildas’ more complacent contemporaries reached fifteen hundred years earlier in response to the ‘godless hordes’ entering the country from the south east.

Unlike in the sixth century, a solution to the crisis has been proposed – sending migrants to Rwanda for their claims to be heard – but for setting this plan in motion, then Home Secretary Suella Breverman incurred the wrath of the Financial Times, Human Rights lawyers, NGOs and the European Court of Human Rights. Braverman further invoked progressive opprobrium for describing the number of arrivals as an ‘invasion of our southern coast’. The Archbishop of Canterbury, declared such rhetoric to be ‘shrill’, ‘immoral’ and ‘disgraceful’. He argued that treating migrants as ‘invaders’ to be deterred denied them both ‘dignity’ and ‘value’ as fellow human beings.

However, given that millions of migrants have descended upon these shores in the space of a decade, ‘invasion’ might indeed be the noun that best captures the current reality. Welby’s sixth century Celtic church predecessor would certainly have thought so. Yet for Welby, the mainstream media, and academic and business elites, this invasion has been welcomed as a positive contribution to a declining population, not a cause of existential concern.

It is daily more evident that current levels of migration place unwarranted pressure on already stressed health and social services, housing and education as well as what were once seen as traditional British values. In other words, contra Archbishop Welby and the progressive establishment, we should perhaps be far less indifferent to the profound change two decades of open borders have had upon a British way of life and self-understanding. Once large-scale migration begins it becomes a self-reinforcing process.

‘If there is a single law in migration,’ Myron Weiner wrote in The Global Migration Crisis, ‘it is that a migration flow, once begun, induces its own flow. Migrants enable their friends and relatives back home to migrate by providing them with information about how to migrate, resources to facilitate movement, and assistance in finding jobs and housing.’ As Samuel Huntington observed in his prescient The Clash of Civilizations and the Remaking of World Order (1996) Europe and the UK experienced an evolving post Cold War migration crisis partly because of these unregulated flows, but also because not all migrants from different cultures fully integrate into western society.

The challenge is both demographic and cultural. Sustained immigration can produce divided communities. Moreover, as culture assumes increasing salience in an identity obsessed post-Cold War disorder, formerly monocultural European societies have become ‘cleft’. In a cleft country, Huntington tells us, minority groups and their host country find that ‘the forces of repulsion drive them apart and they gravitate toward civilizational magnets in other societies’.

Unlike mainland Europe, the UK has not had to cope with either unregulated migration or an ‘invasion’ until the last decade of the twentieth century. Ironically, Brexit has only exacerbated the problem. Whilst European countries endured a history of internal and external war, invasion and conquest, the United Kingdom, as an island once preserved by a silver sea which, as Shakespeare had it, ‘serves it in the office as a wall, or as in a moat defensive to a house’ had always controlled its borders. Its defensive moat repelled foreign invaders from the Spanish Armada in the sixteenth century, to Napoleon in the nineteenth and the Third Reich in the twentieth. All found the island fortress and its naval defences impregnable. The last successful conquest of Britain was undertaken in 1066.

The Barbarian invasion problem revisited

It was a very different and much earlier invasion that most resembles the UK’s current migration chaos. As fifth century Rome endured sustained assaults from barbarian tribes Huns, Goths and Visigoths, its legions retreated from the British Isles to shore up the West’s crumbling European frontiers. Left to their own devices the Romanised, or more precisely, civilized, Britons failed to maintain their internal defences. Instead, they endured growing incursions from the Scots and Pictish tribes from across the Irish sea and beyond Hadrian’s wall, which the Romans had built ‘to repel’ these uncivilized ‘foes’.

The Britons, ‘with no head to guide them’ and the legions gone, Gildas wrote, impotently witnessed,

the Picts and Scots, like worms which in the heat of the mid-day come forth from their holes… differing one from another in manners, but inspired with the same avidity for blood, and all more eager to shroud their villainous faces in bushy hair than to cover with decent clothing those parts of their body which required it, having heard of the departure of our (Roman) friends ,and their resolution never to return, they seized with greater boldness than before on all the country towards the extreme north.

The Romanised Britons ignored the northern threat and continued to revel in the ‘extraordinary plenty’ that the cultivated towns and cities of England still enjoyed. Wealth licensed ‘every kind of luxury and licentiousness’.

This is a pattern all too reminiscent of a woke generation working from home and accustomed to sanctimonious virtue signalling. As Gildas wrote,

It grew with so firm a root, that one might truly say of it, “Such fornication is heard of among you, as never was known the like among the Gentiles.” But besides this vice, there arose also every other, to which human nature is liable and, in particular, that hatred of truth… which still at present destroys everything good in the island.

and, we might add, still does.

Eventually, in order to protect their comfortable lifestyle, the Britons called a council ‘to settle what was best and most expedient to be done, in order to repel such frequent and fatal irruptions and plunderings’ that civilized Britain continued to suffer at the hands of the Scots and Irish ‘nations’.

The solution arrived at was again an all too familiar one. ‘All the councillors’, together with ‘Gurthrigern’ [Vortigern], the British king,

were so blinded, that, as a protection to their country, they sealed its doom by inviting in among them (like wolves into the sheep-fold), the fierce and impious Saxons, a race hateful both to God and men, to repel the invasions of the northern nations. Nothing was ever so pernicious to our country, nothing was ever so unlucky. What palpable darkness must have enveloped their minds-darkness, desperate and cruel! Those very people whom, when absent, they dreaded more than death itself, were invited to reside, as one may say, under the self-same roof. Foolish are the princes, as it is said, of Thafneos, giving counsel to unwise Pharaoh. A multitude of whelps came forth from the lair of this barbaric lioness.

The new migrants,

being thus introduced… into the island, to encounter, as they falsely said, any dangers in defence of their hospitable entertainers, obtain an allowance of provisions, which, for some time being plentifully bestowed, stopped their doggish mouths. Yet they complain that their monthly supplies are not furnished in sufficient abundance, and they industriously aggravate each occasion of quarrel, saying that unless more liberality is shown to them, they will break the treaty and plunder the whole island. In a short time, they follow up their threats with deeds.

Evidently, the migrant arrivals today are far less brutal. Yet there remain uncanny resemblances. While they may not be ‘hateful to God and man’, they often form sufficiently culturally distinct and increasingly welfare dependent communities that can undermine the traditional structures and institutions the United Kingdom once enjoyed. Significantly, under pressure from the Saxon invasion ‘the miserable remnant’ of sixth century Britons took to the mountains or constrained by famine, came and yielded themselves to be slaves forever to their foes.

Some, under the influence of Ambrosius Aurelianus, the prototype of the legendary Arthur, mounted a resistance to ‘their cruel’ migrant ‘conquerors’, but were increasingly confined to the west of the country. As Gildas concludes his account of Britain’s ruin:

And yet neither to this day are the cities of our country inhabited as before, but being forsaken and overthrown, still lie desolate; our foreign wars having ceased, but our civil troubles still remaining, as well the remembrance of such terrible desolation of the island.

Roman Britain never recovered from its earlier migrant invasion, although its Celtic church maintained itself uncertainly in West Wales and Cornwall. Gildas’ account, like more recent studies of civilizational decline, illustrates how decline starts from within before it is defeated on the battlefield. What happens within a civilization is crucial to containing internal sources of decay. This was the deracinating danger Huntington thought multiculturalism, together with unrestricted migration flows, posed to the survival of the West.

Multicultural ideology that dominated UK and US political discourse from the end of the Cold War envisages a country of no civilization without a cultural core. ‘Multiculturalism at home’, Huntington wrote, ‘threatens the US and the West, whilst universalism abroad threatens the West and the world.’ Of course, the twenty-first century United Kingdom is not dark age Britain, but there are some uncanny resemblances between the civilizational collapse of late Roman Britain and today’s decline of the west in general and that of the UK in particular. As in Britain on the brink of the dark age, an out of touch elite, preoccupied with multicultural virtue signalling, considers mass migration by culturally distinct peoples no threat to the cultural integrity of the United Kingdom. Indeed its more woke multicultural enthusiasts, like the Archbishop of Canterbury, consider its civilization an oppressive weight worth trashing. History does not repeat itself but, as Mark Twain observed, it does rhyme.

David Martin Jones is Visiting Professor in War Studies at King’s College, London. His latest book is The Strategy of Maoism in the West, co-authored with M.L.R. Smith and published by Edward Elgar.

Photo: Romary via Wikimedia Commons