Robert Tombs, historian and author

The Cambridge history professor looks at the future of British identity in the light of Brexit and the power of the Magna Carta myth

The World Today Updated 24 November 2020 Published 9 February 2017 5 minute READ

Alan Philps

Former Editor, The World Today, Communications and Publishing

Your book ‘The English and their History’ struck a chord with readers and became an unlikely bestseller at a time when the UK’s place in Europe and the world is changing. As a historian do you believe it was a mistake for Britain to join the EEC in 1973?

It certainly was a mistake in the sense that we never wholeheartedly joined in the project. And I think the decision was based on an exaggerated sense of British weakness. This led to a feeling among officials that Britain had no choice but to join a European confederation which it wasn’t really, deep down, happy about. From the records of negotiations, it’s clear that those who were in charge felt this very strongly. Sir Con O’Neill, who was leading the official team, said, ‘We have to swallow the lot.’ The idea was that Britain had no choice but to go into the Common Market, and therefore should get it over with as quickly as possible.

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