Since the UK public voted to leave the European Union in 2016, a number of commentators have used historical rhetoric to support their perceptions of how the UK’s global position could be strengthened after Brexit. Analogies around Westminster’s historical relationship with Northern Ireland and the Republic of Ireland, the power and reach of the British Empire and Britain’s role in the Second World War have been used to justify both optimistic – and pessimistic – views of the UK’s future outside of the EU.
But are these appeals to Britain’s historical identity too simplistic when compared to the complexity of the situation the country is now facing?
How has the concept of British exceptionalism shaped interpretations of empire, the Second World War and Britain’s historical relationship with Europe in the debate on Britain’s membership of the EU?
To what extent, if at all, can history explain how the UK government perceives its position in the world and among its closest geographical neighbours?
And how can Britain reconcile its internal divisions with its pursuit of a prosperous future outside of the EU?
This event is part of a series, held in the context of the Chatham House Centenary in 2020, bringing together historians, practitioners and current policymakers to discuss contemporary problems of international relations.
Dr Priyamvada Gopal, Reader in Anglophone and Related Literature, University of Cambridge
Professor David Reynolds, Professor of International History, University of Cambridge
Dr Helene von Bismarck, Historian and Writer
Chair: Dr Robert Saunders, Reader in Modern British History, Queen Mary University of London