Remaining Sovereign

A historian argues that British membership in the EU, not Brexit, was the true aberration.

It’s been nearly five years since I joined about 17 million other Brits in marking the box next to “Leave.” In the exhausting, polarizing tumult that followed, with successive prime ministers searching for a deal acceptable to Brussels and Parliament, I admit to a few pangs of “Bregret.” Efforts to reverse the referendum result always seemed anti-democratic; once started, the process had to be finished. But there were moments when I wondered: “Is this really worth it?”

Professor Robert Tombs—a leading historian of France, an emeritus professor at Cambridge, author of the splendid The English and Their History, and one of the most prominent academic voices to make the case for Brexit—seems to have been less worried. While I was pulling my hair out over the latest Westminster impasse, Tombs took the long view, keeping his eye on the prize of independence from the European Union—which, he shows in his latest work, suits Britain’s enduring character.

This Sovereign Isle: Britain In And Out Of Europe provides much-needed perspective on Britain’s bumpy route to the exit. “The Brexit years felt historic to those living through them, and so they were,” writes Tombs, asking one of the book’s many gently mischievous questions: “But will they be more than a footnote in history?” Speculating that future generations will wonder “why people got so worked up about Brexit,” he proposes that EU membership, not Brexit, was the true historical aberration.

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