And as we saw again this summer there is no Scotland-only, no Wales-only, no England-only answer to the spread of disease or to terrorist attacks that can strike at any time, anywhere in any part of our country. And sharing this same small island, we will meet our environmental, economic and security challenges not by splitting apart but when we as Great Britain stand united together.
The tacit exclusion of Northern Ireland from Brown's Britishness discourse has long been noted by both political traditions there. Nationalists have taken some satisfaction in Brown's implicit recognition that his vision of a unifying British identity cannot be applied to the North. Some unionists have, paradoxically, rejected an emphasis on Britishness that only reinforces their separateness from the rest of the UK. Brown's only explicit reference to Northern Ireland was this one:
as the Northern Ireland Assembly meets, thanks also to the work of Tony Blair, let us celebrate that Northern Ireland is now building prosperity because it is now enjoying peace.
This rosy picture of the outlook for the assembly was challenged earlier this month by UCL's Constitution Unit in its latest Northern Ireland Devolution Monitoring Report:
There was a stand-off between the DUP and SF over the commitments in the St Andrews agreement of October 2006, setting the framework for the renewal of devolution, to the devolution of policing and criminal justice by May 2008 and the introduction of an Irish Language Act. St Andrews had bequeathed a system of governance even more replete with deadlocking vetoes, which threatened chaos in education after the expiry of the ‘11+' transfer test in 2008.
Alliance leader David Ford echoed those concerns in his speech to the Lib Dem conference last week:
The Executive is struggling with its own internal contradictions, led by a populist right-wing DUP and a Sinn Féin that has barely moved out of revolutionary Marxism. To avoid a breakdown in the fragile consensus between the DUP and Sinn Féin, they seem prepared to go to any lengths to avoid making any difficult decisions. Our Executive's watchword seems to be consult, consult and then consult some more, lest you be forced into actually making a decision.
The emerging danger is that Brown's flirtation with an early election will make it much more difficult for the DUP and Sinn Féin to hammer out a compromise over the issues that divide them. In seeking to wrongfoot David Cameron, Brown may also destabilise the Stormont Executive.