History suggests that Britain’s relationship with Europe may never truly be resolved.
Brexit is a historical reckoning for the United Kingdom, not least because of the country’s frequent aversion to engaging with its past. That Brexit is rooted in the evasions, divisions and contradictions of Britain’s membership of the European Union (EU) has played remarkably little part in the last two years of national political discourse. But the issue also reaches back deep into episodes of English history: when a political elite in London, preoccupied with European affairs, provoked domestic rebellion, as in the Peasants’ Revolt; or found itself helpless, as Henry VIII’s court was, to influence the centres of continental power. These histories show that there can be no resolution of Britain’s relationship to continental Europe, nor any escape from the problems of the British political order that the European question has long amplified; there can be only temporary respite.