Sunday 22 July 2018

Domhnall Casey: Britain's long-standing notions of superiority lurk behind EU debate

Photo by Ben Pruchnie/Getty Images
Photo by Ben Pruchnie/Getty Images

Domhnall Casey

A big clue as to why the British might want to leave the EU (apart from the fact that it badly needs reform) surely lies in the way they joined in the first place in 1973. According to Luigi Barzini (in his book 'The Europeans'), they did so "disastrously, too late, too expensively, at the wrong moment, and somewhat squeamishly, though politely concealing their feelings, like decayed aristocrats obliged by adverse circumstances to eat in a soup kitchen for the needy. They made it very clear they did it because of force majeure but they were ready to leave at the first opportune time." And indeed, as early as 1975 they held a referendum on whether to stay or leave.

But to understand their place in Europe we should remember that for some reason, from the 19th century until after the First World War, 'continentals' bent over backwards to imitate British virtues - or, more accurately, the manners and practices of the English ruling classes.

Europeans wore black in flattering imitation of the 'milord' and they regarded all Englishmen as being "well educated, well behaved and incredibly richer than almost all continentals".

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