This nostalgic optimism is the siren call of the Brexiteers: we were once great on our own, so we can be again. It’s a complete non-sequitur of course (“Carthage was once great, so it can be again”), but mighty seductive.
It would, however, be quite wrong to blame it all on Them. Look in the mirror and say after me: we are also to blame. How did we, as educators, allow such a simplistic narrative to go unchallenged by good history and civics taught at school and university? How did we, as journalists, allow the Eurosceptic press to get away with it, setting the daily news agenda for radio and television as well? How can we pro-Europeans have so underrated the painful sense of losing out from Europeanisation that I encountered on the doorstep when canvassing for a vote to remain, and which now screams through the vote of the other half of England? (“Speak for yourself,” you may retort. I do, brother, I do.)
And why has generation upon generation of British politicians failed to make the positive case for the project of European integration that we call in shorthand “Europe”?
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