25. February 2019

About the Brexit survival mindset

While Prime Minister Theresa May wants the House of Commons to vote again on 12 March, all sorts of “Brexit survival kits” or “Brexit survival packs” are selling like hot cakes in England. The prices for the care packages vary between 50 and 100 pound, depending on size and weight.


Photo by John Cameron on Unsplash


What at first glance looks like an English eccentricity betrays much of the attitudes that led to Brexit in the 2016 British referendum in England and  Wales (the Scots and Northern Irish did not find a good idea to bid farewell to the European Union).

The Irish historian and columnist Fintan O’Toole has subjected this mind set to psycho-historical analysis in his stunning study “Heroic Failure” (Head of Zeus Books, London). The Times Literary supplement welcomed O’Tooles book as a “devastating analysis“. In 2011 The Guardian ranked the Irish among the 300 most important British intellectuals – although O’Toole is Irish and does not live in the UK.

The Irishman sharply contours “the strange sense of imaginery oppression that underlies Brexit” and goes far, far back into the depths of the English subconscious, to those layers that have to do with the history of World War II.

The British have won the war – and subsequently asked themselves more than once why the losers Germany and Japan, but also Italy and France, performed so much better in the post-war period.

If the British were to order survival packages now, O’Toole would see this as nothing else than a continuation of World War II by other means. Brexit feels for the Brexiters a little like the German Blitz in the English skies, only more peaceful.

Brussels” sounds like “Wehrmacht” to many Englishmen, both wanted or want to subjugate the British Isles in this world view.

Fintan O’Toole on page 74: “It is a dramatic bypass operation. In reality, Britain went from being an imperial power to being a reasonably ordinary but privileged Western European country. In the apparition conjured by Brexit, it went straight from being the colonizer to being colonized.”

The sad thing about this apt analysis, which could only have come from an Irishman: No matter what happens after 29 March 2019, deal or no deal, postponement or a new vote, wherever  Britain will go – this mind set is not to be got away from the minds of the English and thus from politics in Europe.


Photo by Craig Whitehead on Unsplash

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