NZ op-ed: Brexit backers are rewriting history to sell their vision?


INTRO (Robert Patman): A striking feature of the Brexit camp's narrative in the United Kingdom both before and after the 2016 referendum has been the repeated claim that leaving the European Union is consistent with the lessons of history. Such 'lessons' remain influential in the UK, but they invariably fail to stand up to close examination.

First, there is the question of the UK's geography. Advocates of Brexit contend the UK is physically separated from continental Europe and is an island state that looks to America as much as it does Europe. Britain is an island state but one that has been physically linked to France through the Channel Tunnel since 1994 and whose neighbours are European.

Second, and not unrelated, it is claimed that Britain's identity is global rather than European. Nostalgic memories of the British empire loom large here. There is a clear longing in the speeches of prominent Brexiteers like former foreign secretary, Boris Johnson, and Liam Fox, the international trade secretary, to rekindle and deepen trade ties with Commonwealth nations to seamlessly replace those that it currently has with the EU.

Britain's impending exit from the European Union has divided the country. But there is little evidence that the 51 Commonwealth countries are eager to rally round the UK and forge new ties with London. While in Britain may feel nostalgic about empire, many former colonies don't share such happy memories.

Third, the Brexit camp has repeatedly emphasised that Britain's experience during World War II made the country different from, and purportedly superior to, other EU member states. A strong sense of British exceptionalism centres on the idea that Britain stood alone against Nazi Germany between 1939 and 1941 and relied on its 'Dunkirk spirit' to resist Hitler until it was joined in this endeavour by the Soviet Union and the United States. But this account of Britain's wartime performance is highly selective....

Sounds like an anti-Brexiter propaganda piece.

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