Post-Brexit: Escaping the gravitational pull of Europe

Britain’s wish to break free may be hard to achieve, warn Alice Billon-Galland and Pepijn Bergsen

The World Today Published 5 February 2021 Updated 4 February 2021 3 minute READ

Alice Billon-Galland

Former Research Fellow, Europe Programme

Pepijn Bergsen

Former Research Fellow, Europe Programme and UK in the World Programme

In 1920, Britain felt it had just been roped in to the First World War against its will and was anxious to avert its gaze away from the continent to focus on the rest of the world. Brexit is seen by some as another attempt to escape the continent’s clutches, but again the question is whether Britain will be able to strike out on its own.

Last year, as Chatham House celebrated its centenary, we looked through our archives to see what people were discussing during the early years of the institute’s existence and to understand what had changed, or not changed, over the past century. 

Of the addresses delivered at Chatham House in the first decade after the First World War, only a quarter to a third were about Europe and these rarely focused on Britain’s relation with the continent. Instead, the topics discussed were more global. The League of Nations featured as a subject almost as often as continental affairs. 

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