Britain has never understood Europe.
We had made the continent the butt of our jokes, and the root of all our evils. Europe was Napoleon, Europe was Hitler, Europe was Agincourt, Pope, the Great Armada, Eurovision. Europe was humourless Germans, pompous French, cowardly Italians. We treated “Allo, Allo!” as a documentary. If we fought with Europe, rather than against it, it was only ever to defend our own little mercantile interests.
A nation of shop-keepers and petty merchants, we treated EU simply as a trade deal, as if a union of half a billion people from twenty-odd different cultures working together was nothing more than a big discount supermarket, rather than a wonder of history. We’ve joined while still nursing a hangover after the Empire, we fought hard for our privileges, rebates, pounds and vetoes, annoying everyone else. As a result, we were more “tolerated” than liked, because of our money and market. It’s a miracle we’ve even lasted that long. And now we’ve decided even that was too much.
There are still some politicians and pundits who think this may be easy. That we will negotiate some kind of “best of both worlds” deal, some sort of Norway Plus, that we still have some decent cards in our hand. I doubt it. Europe is fed up with us. Germany will gladly welcome the bankers from London; France will gladly welcome the manufacturing jobs; Sweden will take the steel contracts; Italy will take the car factories; they will be fine. We won’t be. We will be punished – not just for our arrogance and insolence, but as an example to others on the Continent who might get similar ideas. At best, we will be forced to accept a humiliating deal, reversing all our hard-won privileges in exchange for the right to trade with the EU. At worse, we’ll be cut off, with Scotland (and maybe Northern Ireland) gone, half of a lonely island drifting away into the ocean.
And Europe will tell us “Good riddance.”