Why not mentioning the War might be a good idea

Government ministers relish invoking past war victories as a validation of our supremacy, but their sense of British exceptionalism and rhetoric increases the chance of a trade war with the EU.

British exceptionalism
Taken on the day the UK left the EU, Johnson’s infantile British exceptionalism has revolved around wars and blue passports. Photo by Number 10 on Flickr (CC BY 2.0)

Some people I know have gone to work in Germany for a year. They have noticed an odd thing. The Germans are a hospitable people – their record on taking in migrants is better than ours and they don’t seem to want to drown them.

Many also speak good English. Yet there seems to be a strange unwillingness to do so, which is a problem for the people moving there because they have little German. It is almost as if the Germans are saying, you say you don’t want anything to do with us in the future, so why should we accommodate you now?

Don’t mention the war

I think we are underestimating the offence we are giving to our European neighbours from some of our politicians’ rhetoric over Brexit. Any comparison with the Second World War, as in, we beat the Germans then, we can do so again, may read well enough with its target audience of Brexiters and on the front page of The Telegraph or the Daily Express.

Yet it also, tacitly, suggests that the Germans today are not much different from the Nazis. This is enormously offensive to a people who are rightly proud of having built a normal, liberal democracy out of the ruins of the War. Just ask any German.

Infantile and irrelevant

Likewise, infantile comments about Agincourt and Crecy, or Trafalgar and Waterloo are at best just that – infantile and irrelevant. They make us look ridiculous in the eyes of most other Europeans. They lessen our standing as a modern, outward-looking nation – if indeed that is what we are or what we want to be.

Most nations have a belief in their exceptionalism. The French think anything French is better than anything from anywhere else. The Germans pride themselves on their efficiency – though I am told the new Berlin airport is a complete shambles.

Our concept of British exceptionalism seems to revolve around just how many people we killed in earlier wars, some justified, as in World War Two, some less so. The problem is that this sort of rhetoric is pretty much all our Continental neighbours hear from us, because it is reported so prominently in our media.

Perfidious Albion

That and an unwillingness to abide by treaties we have already agreed and signed which has not gone unnoticed among those debating signing new ones with the UK.

I think most people in the UK think very favourably of our neighbours on the Continent and are looking forward to being able to return there soon. A majority now want to rejoin the EU, a recent survey has shown.

I therefore suspect that had the 2016 referendum taken place today, we would be staying in the EU. This is largely down to demographics. The elderly were more likely to have voted for Brexit than the young. A number of those elderly have, how should we put it, come off the electoral roll. Many younger voters, who are more likely to want to Remain, have joined it.

A return to the Single Market would be a first step, and would seemingly be accepted by the voters. Labour might take note of this when drawing up their next election manifesto, rather than avoiding the whole subject.

Rejoining the Single Market is perfectly feasible – several non-EU countries are members. It might presage a full return to the EU in time. My only worry, after the childish rhetoric that has surrounded Brexit and the rupture over Northern Ireland, is whether our fellow Europeans would ever want us back.

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