Brexiters ache to dish out a severe spanking, whether we like it or not | Nick Cohen

The Second World War was the essential moment in the formation of English national identity. It is far more important than the legacy of empire and dreams of imperial greatness, however much they may animate Boris Johnson and his followers. I don’t believe anyone can begin to understand Britain without grasping that we were the only major European country not to be invaded by Hitler or Stalin and never to have experienced communism or fascism. The urgent need for postwar co-operation was never felt. Its absence alone explains the astonishing nonchalance with which 17.4 million people took the risk of leaving the EU. A perverse nostalgia for the war – because who wants to celebrate a global slaughter? – inspired Thatcher: “If we had ever looked at Dunkirk as a kind of balance sheet, as sometimes I am asked to look economically at this country, well, I don’t think we would have gone on,” she said. What mattered in the 1940s and 1980s were not the “facts” that so bothered the “experts” but “the spirit of the people”


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