The Remainers’ Dilemma

To me Brexit seems an obvious mistake, with all the makings of a national catastrophe, economically, politically, and with regard to Britain’s reputation in the world. (We really are a bad joke abroad.) For me personally it has been – or will be, if and when it is finally achieved – profoundly depressing: not so much because of the material effect it will have on me as a bi-national, but rather because of the way it is seeking to narrow my generous pan-European self-identity to a parochial British one. Added to this are the profound divisions it has either opened up or revealed – a bit of both, I think – in our always fragile and fractured society, accompanied by a viciousness of debate, especially in our offshore-owned Right-wing press, which has revealed a dark and vindictive side to our national discourse that I wasn’t aware of before. Quite simply, Britain has become a much nastier country as a result of David Cameron’s foolish decision to hold a once-and-for-all referendum on EU membership in 2016. Politically speaking, I don’t like living here any more.

Luckily I have my bolt-hole in Sweden. But I won’t be bolting there without taking with me my feelings of resentment – vindictive, even – against the political leaders and newspaper magnates who have dragged my much-loved Britain to this low and wretched state. I can’t see any ideal salvation for us short of reversing the Brexit decision, and asking to be accepted back into the EU, tails between our legs, no doubt, but to the plaudits and relief of most of our former European allies and friends. There are movements on foot to effect that. The problem with them is that even if, by some miracle, they succeed, it won’t allay the viciousness – the nastiness – one whit, but is much more likely to exacerbate it. Brexiteers who voted that way because of the effects on them of ‘austerity’ – a.k.a. ‘late-stage capitalism’ (that was the underlying reason, after all: see – will resent this further ‘betrayal’ of their ‘popular will’ by the ‘elite’, and get even nastier as a result. It could even end in a kind of civil war.

So this is my dilemma. Is it justifiable to take that risk, in order to undo a great wrong? Aware of the dangers that even success will bring, should we even try to strive for it, or rather settle for something less, but still preferable to what the ideological Brexiteers are looking for? That – a so-called ‘soft’ Brexit – seems to be the second-preference of most unreconstructed ‘Remainers’ today. It will still enrage the extremists, but perhaps not quite so much. And then – out of the EU but still close to it – we can apply for full inclusion again later, once the hysteria has died down. That may be our last best hope, as rational, genuinely patriotic Brits.

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A Traitor in our Midst?

The right-wing press – Telegraph, Mail, Express, Sun – is currently recycling the old accusation of ‘communist subversion’ against the Labour Party, and specifically against Jeremy Corbyn: the smear that served them so well during the Cold War. One leading Conservative MP was yesterday forced to withdraw a tweet in which he claimed that Corbyn had ‘sold British secrets to communist spies’, under threat of legal action. I hope they charge him nonetheless. (He’s the same Tory – Ben Bradley – who suggested that the unemployed could be vasectomised to stop them breeding.)

Of course it’s a smear. It apparently derives from documents in the old Czech security service archive in which secret agents placed in Britain made all kinds of claims to have ‘recruited’ left-wing Brits, or – in Corbyn’s particular case – to have regarded him as a potential collaborator – no more.

But, as everyone who (like me) has studied these murky historical matters is fully aware, this is par for the course for spies of all nationalities and stripes, and at all times. Urged to seek out useful sources of information, and paid by results, they invariably exaggerate their successes. So, an innocent cup of tea at a cafe with the young Jeremy – to talk about Czechoslovakia, perhaps, or politics generally, or even football – is inflated into a Smiley-style assignation wherein microfilms of nuclear weapons and troop movements are covertly passed across the table, to find their way eventually to Moscow Centre. Except that in Corbyn’s case there were no microfilms. (As if an insignificant backbencher in the 1970s would know anything worth passing over to the Russians!) Which is probably why his particular ‘contact’ was, apparently, sacked shortly afterwards. MI5, more knowledgeable about these things than the bloody Daily Telegraph, will have been fully aware of this. And by that time they had probably also come to realise, tardily, that despite all their class prejudices, traitors were more likely to come from the ranks of the ‘posh’ – the ‘Cambridge Five’, for example – than from the Labour Left. (Which didn’t necessarily stop MI5 plotting against the Labour Left. But that’s another story.)

I must say I was surprised to see this old smear being peddled by the Tory press today, and so blatantly. Is it a sign of desperation? Can it possibly have any purchase on opinion? It seems not to have done so during the last General Election. The basic problem with it, from the Right’s point of view, is that as well as being a smear, it looks like one.

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The Oxfam Affair

OK, pretty sordid, exploitative in most cases, downright illegal in a few, and not at all good for Oxfam’s ‘holier than thou’ image. Much of the same, incidentally, went on in some of the old British colonies. Sexual temptation may have been hard to resist for men in power, lonely, separated from their families, and in a hot climate. See Ronald Hyam’s Empire and Sexuality (1990). A few years ago I was sent testimony by an ex-District Officer in – I think – Nigeria which relates similar goings-on in the closing years of Britain’s colonial rule there.

But it’s probably only a small minority who are responsible, as was the case then; and it may not have greatly affected Oxfam’s overall humanitarian work. That’s surely the only thing that should determine whether or not we continue funding it, either individually or as a nation. It’s unfortunate for Oxfam that this affair should have come out at a time when sexual harassment in other quarters is so much in the news, and has been elevated to the status of almost the only type of scandal of the day; more serious, for instance, than famine, earthquakes and war. It would be sad, to say the least, if poor Africans and others were reduced to starvation again, because of a sudden outbreak of moralism or – dare I say it? – puritanism in the West. Tory and UKIP anti-foreign-aiders won’t be able to believe their hypocritical luck.

The picture below – I don’t know where I got it from – is of course a joke. (That’s in case the fake news people get hold of it.)


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I’ve been asked to contribute briefly to a volume – or it may be a website – of British European residents’ feelings about Brexit. Here’s my penn’orth.

No-one has, or should feel, a single national identity. I was born British, am fond of certain British things (cricket, steak and kidney puddings, our humour), and proud of others (our part in the early months of the last European War, the NHS), but have never been a ‘patriot’ in that limited sense. This is why Theresa May’s dismissive ‘if you believe you’re a citizen of the world, you’re a citizen of nowhere’ at a recent Tory conference, appalled and alienated me. The Brexit vote had the same effect. It may not have been a purely xenophobic event, but rather – as I argued in my blog at the time (…/…/16/is-it-really-about-the-eu/, and other posts) – more of a people’s misdirected reaction against decades of oppression (if that’s not too strong a word) by other forces than ‘Brussels’. I’m even more depressed by the intolerance and sheer racism that the result of the referendum provoked, mainly on the Brexit side, and the sheer irrationality of the argument against a second democratic vote. Lastly, I’ve been made to feel humiliated by the reactions – usually sympathetic – of the friends I’ve made in Sweden, where for the last 22 years I’ve spent half my time with my Swedish partner. I used to try to defend my country abroad; I no longer can. (Cricket they can’t understand; steak-and-kidney pudding sounds revolting to them; only ‘Engelsk humor’ has any purchase. Thank God for Eddie Izzard.)

I love Sweden just a little bit less than England, and admire her more. But I’m unwilling to move there permanently – the cricket, and all the rest – and Kajsa would be unhappy living in Britain all the time, for what I think are better reasons. So we live in both countries, relying on free movement between them; sharing the rights and medical services that the EU gives us access to; and – more than this – the sense of community that being in a single association gives us. I’ve also worked in Sweden, doing occasional lecturing, on the salary for which (and on our shared sommarhus) I pay Swedish taxes. My children and grandchildren share all the delights of Sweden with me. I may not be materially affected by Brexit – I applied for (dual) Swedish citizenship straight after Brexit, which I hope will come through soon (Migrationsverket has a backlog) – and which should have the added advantage of restoring the European citizenship that the Brexiteers have stolen from me. But – perhaps oddly, in view of my admitted lack of ‘patriotism’ – I’m more concerned about the damage that they have done to Britain’s reputation in the world. For the first time I feel ashamed of being British.

I also have tremendous feelings of sympathy for other Europeans who will no longer be able to live and work in Britain, as they used to. I understand that the Brexpats movement is working for them too. And of course I’m worried for the British economy; though I have to say that’s the least of my concerns.

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Boris: the Speech

I watched Boris’s speech this morning. (See It seemed to me – and to a friend of mine who has been insisting from the beginning that Brexit won’t go through – to indicate a certain weakening of confidence on the Brexiteers’ part. He has obviously taken on board the Remainers’ reasonable objections, well put (not by me) in my last post here; which he gave faithful and fair expression to. None of all that ‘Remoaner’, ‘traitors’, ‘enemies of the people’ and ‘you lost: get used to it’ stuff that has been coming out of the Right-wing press in recent months, and which has so angered the 48% of us – or probably more than that now, with the oldies dying off. (The elderly were far more pro-Brexit than younger voters.) Boris sees, maybe feels, our pain; even, he claims, our ‘patriotism’. Is that because he has never been a committed Brexiter? Only an opportunist?

This was the most impressive part of his speech. The rest he spent trying to answer our objections, but with no substance or detail to back up his counter-arguments. So the speech may not have been enough to halt and reverse the anti-Brexit trend which seems to have been slowly building up recently; but at least it implicitly acknowledged it. As such, it could serve us Remainers as an encouragement.

Boris is right to say, however, that dropping Brexit now would create a storm of protest in the country, even amounting (this is my gloss) to civil war. That may be the most convincing reason to stick with that fateful decision made in the summer of 2016 – albeit as ‘softly’ as possible. The damage to our whole political fabric was done then: by Cameron’s decision to call a referendum on such a simple – but ill-defined – question; by a nervous Government’s decision to treat its result as mandatory rather than merely advisory; by Parliament’s shamefully going along with this; by the Tory press’s taunts and threats against anyone who wanted even to consider its legitimacy, or advocate a second referendum after rational consideration; and by Farage’s and UKIP’s stirring up sufficient xenophobia in the more deprived parts of the country to push it through. That’s a storm which may not be stilled; except by measures which will truly allay working- and lower-middle-class Brexit voters’ fears. In other words, a new social – I would say socialist – contract with the people. And that will take time, and probably stir the whole seething mess up even more on the way.

Ego desperatio. Is that right? Boris could tell me.

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Dear Boris

I’m a member of a Facebook group consisting of UK nationals living – or in my case part-living – on the Continent. It’s presently trying to make out a legal case for our retaining European citizenship, on an individual basis, after the separation. So far it has made progress through one (Dutch) court: see But it’s also putting together a collection of articles by ‘Brexpats’ describing their situations and feelings. This one is in the form of an open letter addressed to Boris Johnson, prior to a speech he’s due to give later today in favour of Brexit. I think it’s worth circulating more widely. (Sorry I don’t know the name of the original author.)

Dear Mr Johnson

You are planning to address why Remainers’ hearts are scarred by leaving the EU. Allow me to give you some insights from a Remoaner snowflake that might help.

Our hearts are scarred because the official Leave campaign led by you offered a confection of unfulfillable promises that any realistic appraisal would show to be unachievable. But you and your colleagues worked hard to denigrate anyone who offered such a realistic appraisal by dismissing it as Project Fear and sneering at ‘experts’. You even admitted that you were offering voters the prospect of having our cake and eating it: which has always been a byword for the impossible. It is still impossible, and yet as the fog of bombastic rhetoric clears and the unsquareable circle becomes ever more discernible you and your fellow Brexiteers continue to promise the unachievable.

Our hearts are scarred because even with all the pie in the sky promises, Leave would not have achieved a majority if it hadn’t been aided by a xenophobic parallel campaign fronted by Nigel Farage. You may not have endorsed his demonisation of those who come to the UK from other countries, but you certainly reaped the benefit. Unlike the EU citizens who are living and working here legally yet who have been abused, assaulted and made to feel unwelcome on the back of the referendum result. The campaign which helped you to your victory has brought needless division and unhappiness to many people.

Our hearts are scarred because you and your free marketeer cohorts managed to translate the result of an advisory referendum into a purported demand from the People for far more than they ever voted for: not just to leave the EU, but to leave the Single Market and the Customs Union, to turn our back on our closest, largest market and transform the UK into a low regulation low tax offshore paradise for capitalists, combining Indian levels of environmental regulation with the tax rules of the British Virgin Islands. We do not want to see our country asset-stripped for the enrichment of a small cabal of businessmen and politicians for their own personal gain.

Our hearts are scarred because we care about our fellow citizens. The EU citizens who have come here to work and make a life in the UK, who have helped sustain our health service and our social care, who have contributed to our communities and our economic wellbeing. And our fellow British citizens who will suffer job losses, inflation and a diminished standard of living as a result of your desire to sacrifice our country on the altar of your ambition.

Our hearts are scarred because those who support Brexit have made every attempt to destroy the mechanisms that make our system of government great. You have repeatedly attempted to circumvent and neuter the sovereignty of Parliament (which is ironic, in view of Leave’s constant championing of Parliamentary sovereignty). You have cast doubt on the impartiality of the civil service. And you have sought to undermine the independence of the judiciary.

Our hearts are scarred because we are patriots, and because we believe that the referendum is being used by a small group to bring about an outcome which is utterly damaging to our country, the people who live in it, and the systems of law and government that have served as a model to the rest of the world for centuries.

And no bombast or empty promises from you will stop our hearts from being scarred. Time is running out, and all too soon you will have to stop your dance of the seven veils and stand naked before the People and before history. And they will judge you as we have already judged you: an empty, vain, ignorant man who was used by shadowy forces to destroy the country he falsely purported to love. So don’t worry about us: look in the mirror and worry about him.

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At my age birthdays can bring to mind only one thing – imminent death. I’m now seven years on from my biblically allotted ‘threescore years and ten’, so it’s bound to come soon. Have you noticed – from obituary columns – how many men die in their mid-late 70s? Not that I’m particularly bothered about that – one of the advantages of being a manic depressive is that extinction doesn’t seem to be the worst thing that can happen to one; but I do occasionally wonder about what will follow. Utter extinction is of course – by definition – unimaginable. But I have two alternative scenarios I rather like to play with. One is of my being wafted uncorporeally around our amazing universe to see close up the constellations and planets that have intrigued me since I was a boy. (Dan Dare had a lot to do with this.) I presently have a phone App – ‘Apod’, from NASA – that is giving me a daily and far-off glimpse into this. That’s my idea of Heaven. The other alternative is going back to my beginning, and living the same life over again (and again, and again), but without knowing that this is a repeat, and so unable to correct anything. For a depressive that will be Hell. Maybe it’s where all of us are now? Anyway, as the atheist Emmanuel Barthélemy coolly said on the scaffold in 1853 – see below, – ‘soon I’ll know if I’m right’. Or not, if extinction is my fate.

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Assange, Ny and the CPS

I take back what I wrote about Madame Ny. She is the Swedish prosecutor who originally filed for Julian Assange’s extradition from Britain on a disputed and possibly trumped-up sex-crime charge four or five years ago, leading him to seek asylum in the London Ecuadorean Embassy for fear of being re-extradited to the USA on more serious ‘national security’ charges arising out of Wikileaks’s whistle-blowing activities. (See;; and a number of other past entries – keyword search ‘Assange’.) Or at least, some of what I wrote about Marianne Ny. She still seems to me to be a pretty appalling zealot (evidence is in those earlier posts), and her obstinate refusal to fly over to interview Assange in London – which would have hopefully resolved the whole question of his alleged sex crime – has, Kajsa tells me, been roundly condemned in Sweden too.

But, in her favour, it now appears that she was not responsible for the case going on as ridiculously long as it has. According to today’s Guardian, Ny offered to drop the extradition request as early as October 2013. ‘There is a demand in Swedish law for coercive measures to be proportionate,’ she informed London then, very reasonably – and creditably for the Swedish legal system, which I have criticized in the past. ‘The time passing, the costs and how severe the crime is to be taken into account together with the intrusion or detriment to the suspect. Against this background, we have found us to be obliged to lift the detention order … and to withdraw the European arrest warrant. If so this should be done in a couple of weeks.’ That should have enabled Assange to be released from his comfortable captivity. But it didn’t, because the British Crown Prosecution Service stepped in to turn her offer down: ‘Don’t you dare get cold feet!’ (See So it was the British government’s doing after all. Extraordinary. But I might have known.

I can only guess at our government’s motive; but it might be because it wants Assange locked away – in the embassy, or, better still, in an American jail – too. Or, alternatively, it may be because the Foreign Office didn’t want another very public battle with the USA over what could be seen as a ‘political’ extradition, after other recent ones involving ‘hackers’, and at a time when May is desperate for a trade deal with Trump. In any case, it’s ‘our’ fault, not ‘yours’, my Swedish friends. Sorry.

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The Darkest Hour

I’m sure the German Ambassador in London is right to upbraid us Brits, yet again, for our World War II obsessions. Peter Ammon sees this as one of the factors lying behind Brexit, reminding our nationalists of another period when Britain bravely ‘stood alone’ in the face of German domination. (See Of course this is wrong in all kinds of ways; not least in neglecting to take account of the Germans’ huge national change of heart since 1945, reflected in numerous official apologies and memorials to the Nazis’ victims, and in Germany’s present-day liberalism, which in many respects has overtaken ours. (Liberalism and toleration used to be two of the prime factors which distinguished us from them. No longer.) I’m sickened too by the persistence of old ‘Boche’ stereotypes in Britain today, as I was a few years ago – before Germany started winning World Cups herself – by the ‘Two World Wars and One World Cup’ chant that was heard around Wembley Stadium when the teams played together. It’s pathetic; and if it has fuelled the Ukippers, dangerous too.

On the other hand, the Second World War was a crucial event in Britain’s history, as well as in Germany’s of course, and in a lot of other countries’ – even Sweden’s, though she managed to duck out of it. (I’m sorry, but I do get fed up with Swedish friends’ proclaiming their nation’s avoidance of war for 200 years as a virtue.) For those of us who remember it, or its aftermath, it is bound to have left a permanent mark which it’s difficult to shake off emotionally, even if we can reason ourselves free of it. I was four years old when it ended. I remember being carried into air-raid shelters when the German bombers came over – headed for Hornchurch aerodrome, one of the Battle of Britain airfields – and being reassured by my mother: ‘don’t worry, dear, it’s only thunder’. I also think I remember seeing a German parachutist silhouetted against the moon as he leapt from his burning plane; very vividly, this, though I obviously couldn’t have seen it, because although it happened, I was being born at that very moment. (And feet-first. I was a ‘breach’ birth. Eyes came out last.) I was very conscious as a boy of the stark ruination all around me – ‘bomb-sites’ – especially as we travelled into London, and which remained for years afterwards; and of the privation and rationing that lasted for longer. (No sweets.) I was brought up with the image of Churchill as our saviour, though he disclaimed the title himself: ‘the British people were the lion. I only gave him his roar’; and of good brave King George VI, refusing to flee abroad, but instead staying in London while the bombs fell, and – as it happened – the spitting image of my father, whom I loved. The King’s stammer helped: I had a bad one too. I was exhilarated by the knowledge that this was a ‘good’, ‘defensive’ war that ‘we’ had won, and against something unutterably evil: the more so when those pictures of the liberated death camps appeared. So I’m afraid I can’t erase the War from my memory. Or my admiration for Churchill, despite his enormous failings before 1940 (Tonypandy, India), and his sanctioning Britain’s own terrifying (indeed, strictly speaking terrorist) Blitzkrieg at the end of the War, when it was probably unnecessary. Yes, he was an imperialist, a racist, and probably loved war too much for comfort – too much for his own comfort, as it happens; but he was right about Hitler, a generous personality, and his ‘roar’ was essential to the morale of the nation he led; after, of course, it – the nation – had put him into power.

One of the strengths of Darkest Hour, which we saw last night, was that it made this plain. Though it is the Conservative Party that seems to have taken most of the credit afterwards for winning the War, simply because Churchill was a Tory, the film was right to emphasize the fact that he wouldn’t have been put in that position if it hadn’t been for the support of the Parliamentary Labour Party, which insisted he replace Chamberlain when most of the Tory bigwigs – like Halifax, the most likely alternative – were still hankering for a compromise settlement with Hitler. (Some of them quite liked him.) The War cabinet was a genuine coalition, containing Labour and Liberal politicians as well as Tories. And it was supported by the ‘people’. The film’s way of making this point, by staging a conversation between Churchill and ‘ordinary’ folk on an Underground train, has been much criticised on the grounds that it didn’t actually happen; but in essence it was accurate: Churchill had other and more reliable means of testing the morale of the country, recently documented in Paul Addison and Jeremy Crang’s Listening to Britain: Home Intelligence Reports on Britain’s Finest Hour May-September (see Of course this is all a bit much for some to accept, especially cynics and the upper classes; and books have been written to try to show that not all the proles were as loyal and principled as this (the most balanced is the one reviewed here: But in general it’s fair, I think, to describe World War II as a People’s war, much more so than World War I (or than the Iraq War, for that matter, or any of Britain’s imperial wars – perhaps the Falklands episode comes closest): a point re-emphasised by the shots in the film – and of course in the other recent WW2 film Dunkirk – of all those ‘little boats’ sailing out from Kent and Sussex to rescue the entrapped British and Allied armies on the French coast.

So I confess I emoted during Darkest Hour. But not in the way some Brexiteers do, if the German Ambassador is right. The moral I draw from the 1940s is not that we’re best ‘on our own’ – we didn’t after all ‘win’ the war on our own – but that anyone – any nation – can become as bad as Germany became then. We may be seeing that now, even among the victors of 1945.

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Make Britain Great Again

Everyone knows, don’t they? that the ‘Great’ in ‘Great Britain’ refers historically to the fact that it comprises a union of four separate nations, rather than just ‘England’. It has nothing to do with ‘greatness’ in the boastful sense: ‘make America great again’. At Eton, however, they don’t appear to teach this. Both of the silliest members of our ‘Brexit’ gang – Boris Johnson and Jacob Rees-Mogg – were educated there, and each of them seems to be obsessed with the idea of making ‘Britain great again’ in exactly that misleading sense. Which may be felt to be ironic, if one of the effects of Brexit, in view of the Scots’ opposition to it in the 2017 referendum, is to break up the Union, leaving England (plus Wales, too small to cope on her own, and Northern Ireland, too bigoted) dangerously isolated, and ‘Great’ Britain, properly understood, no more.

Brexit can be seen as a fitting end to the ‘great’ British project in other ways: if, that is, one still wants to insist, after reading my recent book British Imperial. What the Empire Wasn’t (or the earlier one subtitled Delusions of Grandeur), that ‘we’ – previous generations of Brits – ever were the powerful people we thought we were. The flaws in the Empire were obvious, and seriously damaging to the country, for a hundred years before the whole thing came crashing to the ground. Britain’s economic supremacy in the nineteenth century was based on her manufacturing industry and her trade, which began waning from the 1870s onwards, and finally collapsed – as a result of globalisation ridden by Thatcher – a hundred years later. The Empire, partly accumulated (as I’ve argued) as a desperate effort to reverse that decline, was not really a symptom of ‘greatness’ (in our Old Etonians’ sense), but of weakness.

Which is why very few Britons, apart from the usual suspects – mainly Colonel Blimps, white settler-colonialists, and ex-imperial consuls – bothered very much at all about its decline and fall. Compared to what happened in France, for example, British decolonisation provoked no serious domestic reaction – most of what reaction there was, like over the Suez crisis, was cheering it on – from people who didn’t generally see or care about ‘greatness’ in these terms. Those who felt ‘pride’ in their country chose other measures of national achievement: like, in particular, Britain’s ‘standing alone’ against the Nazi menace in the early years of the War, and the ‘welfare state’ created after it. Size and power were not important, and – to the extent that Britain ever had them – are still not greatly missed today.

Diminished as we were, and overshadowed by global forces we had no hope of controlling or even influencing on our own, we decided in the 1960s to pool our resources and national strengths in the larger project which was the ‘Common Market’, later the EU; which was a sensible decision, and one that maximised our remaining world influence and prestige, in co-operation with our neighbours. Then came (or perhaps won’t, if we come to our senses in the next year or two!) Brexit. That can’t make Britain ‘great’. There seems to be very little chance, if any, of our retaining our national reputation, or our prosperity, or even our independence in a realistic sense – taking account, that is, of our new dependency on the world market and on America’s terms of trade – without the protection that comes (or could do) as part of a community of nations. Brexit means taking the ‘great’, or what there is left of it, in Boris’s and Jacob’s sense, out of Britain. If only they could see that. – Or perhaps they do, and are really wanting to make Britain something else.

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