Something that the British deserve some credit for is their lack of care for how other countries perceive them. Rarely does it tickle our curiosity and we are unapologetic about it. If it did bother us, the tourist hotspots of Marbella, Benidorm, Zante, Napa and the like would be unrecognisable today. Historically speaking, few Britons also want reminding of slavery or atrocities in the colonies.
This is down to both an unabashed pride and some guilt. Much deeper than this, the Anglo-Saxon mentality still possesses the Protestant exceptionalism that led to the rise of our polite society and class structure. That is to say, Britons believe (whether they admit it or not) that they are morally superior to other nations. Do not be fooled, Brexit is as much an identity crisis as it is about trade, sovereignty or even freedom of movement.
I am a Briton who has lived in France, Spain and Russia. I have visited twenty-two European countries in total. My mother lives in Spain and my father lived and worked in Finland, Poland and Brussels – the heart of the European Union. I highlight these facts because this piece is a very personal view, though one which has been reinforced many times. Certainly, a flick through any French, Spanish, German or even Russian publication will echo the thoughts I am about to share.
Before Brexit, most Europeans had a benign view of Britons. They were stand-offish and reserved. Sensible, yet preoccupied with rather odd things – two separate taps and black pudding anyone? Europeans viewed the British as pragmatic and open to the world, yet sometimes a little frosty. Seemingly mild mannered and moderate, it created a sense that things at least ran smoothly on that little island.
Now, Europeans ask whether we are deranged. ‘What the hell is going on?’ and ‘what the hell where you thinking?’ are common questions. I am not misleading the Brexiteer reader when I say no European wants the EU to punish Britain. Instead, many are at a loss as to how we cannot see what is unfolding in front of our own eyes.
The situation is [rightly] perceived as chaotic. When Britain did not sign up to the Treaty of Rome 1957, one French diplomat remarked that Britain thought it ‘could stay the same without having to change’. With this in mind, I urge the reader to revisit Theresa May’s Florence and Lancaster House speeches. As The Economist recently remarked, our government once viewed as so professional by Europeans – many of whom lived under fascism and communism – is witnessing amateur hour. British politicians come across as weak, clueless and incompetent.
Brexit revealed long-standing problems within our politics and society. As cities became overpopulated with coffee shop workers trying to sell film scripts, a self-serving elite lacking expertise came to over represent the rest of Britain it had little interest in serving. As the rest of the continent has tried to move on, Britain remains headstrong.
Britons possess a misplaced pride over Europe. That as it became entrenched in revolution, nationalism, communism and fascism, we on our little island avoided that mess. Europe, on the other hand, remembers how we were constantly involved in all of those things. A good place to end, the answer is that Europeans think of Britons as Europeans. Few of them understand why we would turn our backs and ignore the reality.