Brexit and Nostalgia

Michel Barnier, who is something big in Europe, has long impressed me; at least on TV. I wish we in the UK had politicians like him. But his widely reported observation yesterday that (in effect) we Brits were against Europe because – or partly because – of nostalgia for our imperial past, I think is wrong. It’s what foreigners always assume about us – I’m for ever having it fired at me abroad – due I think to the sheer apparent size of Britain’s empire, and the myth, created by a number of my fellow historians, that the ‘people’ were complicit in it. On the contrary, my major book, The Absent-Minded Imperialists, argued – albeit controversially – that Britons in the 19th and early 20th centuries were mostly uninterested in the Empire, if not directly opposed to it, and as a result were hardly moved at all when it came to an end after World War II. The main exceptions were the upper and upper-middle classes, which would explain Farage’s, Boris’s and Rees-Mogg’s obvious reactionary empire-nostalgia today; but should not be assumed to represent the (relatively) more sensible element in the Brexit camp. The true roots of popular Brexitness are far more parochial.

I’m at Gatwick Airport just now, waiting for my flight back to Stockholm, and then out to our island summerhouse. So I’ll miss the visit of Trump to the UK, and apparently of his whole family, all of whom want have tea with the Queen. Hopefully she’ll put something something nasty – sennacot, perhaps? – in the pot.

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1 Response to Brexit and Nostalgia

  1. Tony says:

    Its more an ‘English’ nostalgia for a mythical past, the uniqueness of the landscape and of the English themselves with the empire as an extension, again full of myth with lots of convenient amnesia about its iniquitous aspects and events. The Scots and Irish have their own Celtic twilight zones of invention myth and amnesia, but they also have the English to whom they can aim their resentments with quite a lot of justification.

    Liked by 1 person

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