Brexit History

I really ought to write something – a blog, an article, maybe even a short book – on how History has been perverted in the service of the ‘Brexit’ cause. As it has been of many other causes, you’ll say; but this is a particularly egregious example. The Brexiters are wrong about the Second World War; about the British Empire; about Britain’s historical ‘identity’; about the real meaning of ‘sovereignty’ (for a small island vulnerable on its own, for example)… and about so many other things that I know something about. But persuading them of this is  a difficult task to take on, mainly because it involves a critical understanding of historical causality and responsibility which seems quite beyond our self-styled ‘patriots’. What kind of History do they teach them at Eton, I wonder? But I may have a stab at it. It feels like my duty, as a historian of Britain and, in particular, of British imperialism.

On the question of ‘responsibility’, my hackles always rise when I read Brexiteers claiming that ‘we won the War’. Really? ‘We’? The only people alive today who can take any personal credit for defeating Hitler would have had to have been 18 years old in 1945; that is, 92 today. OK, I realise that people aren’t talking personally, but merely taking pride in the past achievements of their tribe or team. But tribes and teams change over time; as the nation of Britain certainly has. We aren’t the same people as that generation of heroes. ‘They’ weren’t ‘us’.

And that’s quite beside the questions of whether it really was ‘Britain’ who ‘won the War’; or whether the ‘Empire’ could be called an ‘achievement’; or whether Britain has always been apart and distinct from the Continent of Europe in the ways that the Brexiteers claim. These are some of the topics I feel I should address. (I won’t of course be the first historian to do so. Genuine historians have been fretting over this for a couple of years.) In the meantime, my fairly recent British Imperial. What the Empire Wasn’t makes a start on the imperial side.

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3 Responses to Brexit History

  1. TJ says:

    The whole Brexit saga has shown the potency of mythology and self delusion in politics, especially in a falsely created past. Unfortunately many elderly Brexit voters were brought up on monchrome war films of the 50’s which they can still watch for free on the ‘Talking Pictures channel where Jack Hawkins, John Mills and Anthony Steel win the war and show what what it means to be British (er English that is)

    Liked by 1 person

  2. Phil says:

    The analogy drawn between WWII and Brexit also rests on another distortion of history, the insistence that “we stood alone” during the war (and hence that “standing alone” after a hard Brexit would be no big deal). In point of fact there was only one calendar year when Britain didn’t have any continental allies – from the fall of France (and Norway) in June 1940 to Barbarossa in June 1941 – and even in that period for “Britain” we should really read “the British Empire”. To put it another way, Britain would only have “stood alone” (for twelve months) if the Atlantic blockade had succeeded.

    Liked by 1 person

  3. Of course, in your book, you could demonstrate conclusively that the historical basis of Brexit rhetoric was mistaken; however, it would not change the mind of one Brexiteer. In fact. using evidence and logic to support a point of view is exactly the kind of elitist ploy that the Trumpists in the US and their UK counterparts are wanting to eradicate.

    As to the question of who was responsible for winning the war: growing up in Cold War era Australia, the decisive role played by the Red Army was barely mentioned, whether one was in the classroom or watching mainstream media retrospectives on television. Strategic misinterpretations of that war have a long history.

    Liked by 1 person

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