November 19, 2019

The UK Is Falling Apart

“This was to be the week when the United Kingdom left the European Union. Instead, Prime Minister Boris Johnson has seen that dream dashed as the Oct. 31 Brexit divorce deadline was extended despite his statement last month that he would “rather be dead in a ditch” than ask for a further delay. He is now left pinning his hopes on a new election so he can try to get a wider mandate to quickly withdraw from the European body.

The Brexit saga, of which this week’s events are only the latest chapter, is at heart a story about the U.K.’s failure to understand its place in the modern world. For all of our modern history, we have defined ourselves — as imperialists; winners in wars; purveyors of cool culture — in terms of our relationship with the rest of the globe. Now that we can no longer agree on what that is, we don’t have a shared view of what or who we are.

The divisions created during the last three years are so deep that, whatever the outcome of the next general election, we will not be coming together anytime soon. Friends and even families have fallen out. We remain divided amongst ourselves, as well as cut off from the outside world.

Our imperial history lives on in the heads of some Brexit supporters like the worst of hangovers. U.S. Secretary of State Dean Acheson’s verdict on the Britain of more than half a century ago, that it had “lost an empire” and “not yet found a role,” still rings true. Many of those who support leaving the E.U. seem unable to get over the glorious benders of the past and think that disengaging with the European continent will somehow restore the golden age in which they imagine we once lived.”

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