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How then will future historians assess the period inaugurated by the Brexit referendum? Many on the Remain side see Brexit as a disastrous wrong turn in the natural evolution of British history, but that reading does not allow for the repeated discontinuities in that history, notably over the last 80 years.

Instead, Brexit is likely to be seen as a particularly significant aspect of a marked process of change in Britain’s domestic and, more particularly, international position. The changes in the communist world in the 1980s were a particularly significant prelude, as large-scale migration from Eastern Europe, combined with the immigration policies of the Blair government, built up domestic anxieties about the consequences of an expanded EU. Moreover, China’s successful engagement with world trade challenged established manufacturing and commercial patterns. Brexit  may well be seen, therefore, as an aspect of the response to the end of a particular stage in communist history, which is probably not what supporters or opponents anticipated. Linked to this, Brexit may appear as an aspect of a more widespread would-be nationalism in the face of the weaknesses of supranational solutions, and notably of attempts at supranational governance.

These are international interpretations of Brexit, alongside others that can be offered. National ones also come to the fore, notably in terms of the failure of metropolitan interests and movements, whether it be the City or the self-styled progressive Left, to create a national constituency, or, indeed, to try to engage with the concerns of the bulk of the population. Indeed, but for a reluctance to opt for change and for “Project Fear”, a greater number might well have voted for Brexit. Historians may be unwilling to give due weight to this approach as most do not get out much,  preferring the company of those they identify with, which tends to mean cosmopolitan left-wingers. So, the question in part is whether a history that makes sense of the numbers who voted for Brexit can be written from within the Academy. It is likely that accusations of false consciousness will be bandied about to explain the vote. Fortunately, given the extraordinarily slanted nature of the historical profession, few outside its ranks pay it the attention it claims. There is an “impact agenda” in higher education, but reality does not match its pretensions.
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Lawrence James
November 10th, 2018
4:11 PM
This article is predicated on the flimsy assumption that a third of the electorate is somehow the authentic voice of the whole nation. It is not. Another equally questionable assumption is that historians are out of touch - they don't 'get out much' whatever that they may mean. We do. We also understand more about the past which has shaped the modern world and the nature of relations between nations. But such knowledge based upon study does count for anything in the Brexiteer mind, which is hostile to all experts, the more so when they contradict visceral passions.

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