Are Leavers really hankering after Empire?


There is a very odd accusation made by many people who are against the UK obtaining its freedom from Brussels that those who favour it are backwards looking.

They claim that Leavers are minded to be imperialists and hanker after a return to the British Empire.

I suppose at least in one sense this is true, if not in most.

The British Empire was a hugely successful global project.

Over a short span of four centuries a small island nation not only grew through both conquest and acts of settlement into a union of four nations itself , but the United Kingdom of Great Britain and Ireland (now Northern Ireland, still a tiny kingdom of small islands, managed to spread its influence across all of the world’s land masses and at one point to control all of its oceans.

The map that hung on the walls of schools for even people as young as me born after the end of Empire still showed the world covered in ‘pink bits’ indicating British rule or influence.

The year I was born 1956 was the year of Suez and the final proof that the UK was no longer a global power, so it has now been more than 60 years since even that pretense. In reality of course the UK was finished as a global power at the end of the First World War – victorious in battle but crushed as a world-class economy.

Given that nobody alive can remember the Empire, it is unlikely that Brexit mentality is built on a hankering for something we experienced and then lost called Empire. But I would not dismiss the analogy out of hand.

The British Empire was about one thing, it was about trade. It was built to discover and bring back to Britain the raw materials to feed the Industrial Revolution, and to create markets for the goods made in Britain.

The third earlier side to that triangle was of course the slave trade, but it was also the British Empire which later defeated slavery and attempted to eradicate it.

The most successful Empire ever built by the Peoples of this planet has its legacy in the Commonwealth.

A family of nations bonded together by their shared heritage of Empire and joined by new nations who were never part of that Empire.

It is a testament to the mutual good (alongside the mutual harm) that the empire was responsible for that the Commonwealth is the only such “club” on earth.

I dispute that Leavers hanker after Empire as a throwback to days of glory, and it has to be said ignominy. But I do not object to the analogy of hankering back to Empire if that means to reignite Britain’s position as a great global trading nation.

This is forward looking because the world has changed and the trade is different.

In this century the UK trades intellectual capital, soft skills, creative industries, and the world’s leading financial services hub.

This is Global Britain looking forward not backwards to the old Empire or to the old European Union.

The European Coal & Steel Community and it’s successor entities was created to link the economies of France and Germany in a way that it was hoped would help to rebuild Europe after World War Two and avoid those two nations going to war again.

The continental power play for two centuries had been between these two Peoples. The new Europe saw their return to conflict seem less likely. The EEC was therefore a good thing in Sellar & Yeatman terms!

But the EU created in 1992 is something quite different. It is a vehicle for france and Germany or more likely France or Germany to exercise their political control over the rest of Europe.

The other 25 states of the EU only really exist as their clients. This was the model tried and failed from the East by the Soviet Union in the last century.

In this century the centralising force comes from Brussels of all places, not Moscow.

Global Britain free of these old-fashioned constructs will have the opportunity to once again profit from world and not just regional trade.

Ironically for those few anti-immigration Little Englanders who supported Brexit, I suspect Brexit will re-open the doors to our fruiebds from across the world. Those people the EU keeps out.

Brexit is about thinking  big not small, acting globally not locally, opening doors not closing them, and most of all about looking forwards not back.

It is the EU that has become an evil empire. Brexit is about leaving an empire not joining one.


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