Brexit is being driven by English nationalism

Fintan O’Toole writes: The Brexit campaign is fuelled by a mythology of England proudly “standing alone”, as it did against the Spanish armada and Adolf Hitler. But when did England really stand alone? The answer, roughly speaking, is for 300 of the past 1,200 years. England has been a political entity for only two relatively short periods. The first was between the early 10th century, when the first English national kingdom was created by Athelstan, and 1016 when it was conquered by Cnut the Dane. The second was between 1453, when English kings effectively gave up their attempts to rule France, and 1603, when James VI and I united the thrones of England and Scotland.

Otherwise – and this includes all of the past 400 years – England has always been part of at least one larger entity: an Anglo-French kingdom, the United Kingdom in its various forms, a global empire, the European Union. The English are much less used to being left to their own devices than they think they are.

English nationalists can quite reasonably point out that many emerging nation states have even less experience of being a standalone, self-governing entity – my own country, Ireland, being an obvious example. The big difference is that other countries actually go through a process – often very long and difficult – of preparing themselves politically, culturally and emotionally for the scary business of being (to borrow a term from Irish nationalism) “ourselves alone”. In England, there is no process. A decisive step is about to be taken without acknowledging the path ahead. [Continue reading…]

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