Brexit is unpatriotic and shameful

The other day I got talking to two Leavers on the train. They were a married couple well past retirement age. They told me that they belonged to a small group that celebrated St George’s Day and Trafalgar Day, and said that they would be doing this “as long as we are allowed to”. What I took away from that slightly paranoid remark was that they felt their identity was under threat from unpatriotic liberals. They were lovely people who had worked hard all their lives, and whom I instinctively respected.  As we parted, I told them my father fought against Hitler and the experience made him a lifelong pro-European.  I hope this gave them food for thought.

After thinking about this encounter, I decided to beat the patriotic drum on LDV.  And yes – why don’t we have a Lib Dem fundraising event on Trafalgar Day (21 October),  or Waterloo Day (18 June)?

For hundreds of years, Britain has taken the lead in standing up to tyrants in pursuit of world domination. Trafalgar may have been a specifically British victory, but Waterloo and Blenheim were not. At Blenheim, Marlborough commanded Austrians and Dutch as well as British, while Wellington’s army included Dutch, Belgians and Germans. But for the arrival at Waterloo of another German army under Bluecher, Napoleon would probably have carried the day. Moreover, even if Trafalgar was a battle we won by ourselves, it was part of a lengthy conflict we could not have won alone.

We could never have been victorious in World War One against the domineering Kaiser without our French allies, who suffered far more than we did. Even when we stood alone in World War Two, many Europeans from the continent fought beside us. Think of the heroic Polish pilots in the Battle of Britain and the ferocious resistance of the Free French at Bir Hakim – but for which Rommel might have ended up reaching Cairo while Germany simultaneously took Malta. And those are just two examples.

So yes, we should be proud of our heritage but acknowledge that Britain can never win alone – and never has done. Where does that leave us today? By turning our backs on our European partners and kicking them in the teeth we are behaving in a very un-British and unpatriotic  way. We are kow-towing to Trump and haven’t even left the EU! It is in continuing the legacy of Marlborough and Wellington that this country’s future should lie. We are more effective standing up to Putin, Iranian mullahs, Bashar al-Assad in Syria and other tyrannical forces all over the world if we can do it jointly with our European partners (Think of the Iran nuclear deal that Trump has sabotaged). 

Britain could be leading in Europe, and Europe could be leading the world in fighting climate change, developing a more just economic system and cooling horrific international crises like that in Syria. Instead, we are going to become President Trump’s Air Strip One. What a sad and unworthy destiny for the peoples of these islands!  Brexit is unpatriotic and shameful – shout it loud and clear!  


* John McHugo is a member of the Lib Dem Foreign Affairs Advisory Group. He is a former chair of Lib Dem Friends of Palestine and is the author of A Concise History of Sunnis and Shi'is, Syria: A Recent History, and A Concise History of the Arabs.

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  • John Marriott 9th Aug '19 - 12:21pm

    I read and title and the first paragraph and then frankly gave up. How many more angles can you find on Brexit. If you look back over the last few months alone I reckon you just about have all your bases covered. However that won’t stop the usual suspects having a go, unless I am much mistaken. (Me included?) As Elvis famously advised, let’s have “a little less conversation, a little more action”!

  • A look at the make-up of HMS Victory’s crew shows that it was anything but an ‘English’ victory…
    As for WW2, The sacrifice by the men of the French IV Corps and V Corps, at the battle of Lille in preventingt seven German divisions, including three armoured divisions, from cutting off and destroying the Allied armies in the Battle of Dunkirk. Churchill said of this battle taht “The defence of Lille was of great assistance to the Allied troops retreating into the Dunkirk perimeter.”

  • Peter Martin 9th Aug '19 - 12:46pm

    Look, neither Leavers nor Remainers are necessarily unpatriotic because of their views. I don’t know of anyone who holds a view either way, who does so for any other reason than it being what they consider best for the country.

    “…. I told them my father fought against Hitler and the experience made him a lifelong pro-European”

    So your Dad did what many others of his generation did. So what? So did mine but that was for him to claim credit for. It was well before I was born and nothing to do with me. He was a keen supporter of Tony Benn and anti the EU. Please note, not anti-Europe! He too was tolerant of different views.

    If the wartime generation fought for anything it was to uphold the principle of democracy. This means being able to vote for whatever candidate you like at any election you like. It means being able to vote Remain or Leave according to what everyone thinks is best for our country.

    I hope you don’t bring your “patriotric drum” within earshot of me any time soon. I might just tell you where you can shove your drumsticks!

  • Barry E Lofty 9th Aug '19 - 2:14pm

    Wow I wish I had written that, well said John!!!

  • Anthony Durham 9th Aug '19 - 3:39pm

    You could have mentioned the 22 nationalities who fought with Nelson at Trafalgar, or that England shares Saint George with Ethiopia, Georgia, Malta, Aragon, etc.

  • See latest YOUGOV tracker of Brexit, has 49% Remain, 41% Leave, 11% undecided. Yet the government charges on regardless.

  • You can make a very good case that without the Poles and other European fighter pilot’s we would have lost the Battle of Britain. It is worth pointing out the highest scoring Hurricane squadron was 303, a Polish squadron who had the highest scoring Ace of the Battle of Britain a Cech amongst their number.
    As to being a patriot if your actions cause harm to your country no amount of fine words change the fact you are not.

  • Lorenzo Cherin 9th Aug '19 - 6:50pm

    I like the patriotism in this article but not the charge of shameful.

    The Commonwealth or Empire as was played as much part in the defeat of evil as any European country other than ours.

    And it is not a kick in the face of EU countries that every supporting Brexiteer wants to give, merely for some, a declaration of greater autonomy. Misguided, wrongheaded, maybe and more, but not shameful.

    A break of sorts, a deviance from tradition, a separatism, all this and a lot else, yes, but let us not pretend to like or understand Brexiteers while at that moment dishing out insulting language.

    This is not a civil war.

    Lets keep it civilised.

  • Good piece. My first experience of Europe was at an international workcamp in France, when I was about 21. Among all the European nationalities there, I first got a feeling of what it meant to be British, a stronger identity and a feeling of pride. You can’t feel British in isolation.

    Good idea about celebrating Trafalgar etc. Not too sure about the First World War though – for me that epitomises the pointless loss of life caused by unthinking jingoism, of the sort some Brexiteers exemplify.

    We should certainly wave the Union Jack more, too. The Union Jack has been held together by Joint EU membership, and may be torn apart if Scotland leaves.

  • WWII was won by the Americans and Russians. It sometimes seems like Europe will never forgive them for it.

  • Richard Underhill 9th Aug '19 - 10:34pm

    “But for the arrival at Waterloo of another German army under Bluecher” Prussian actually.
    Please do not exaggerate the importance of the Free French, politically and militarily leaky. I can provide more details of the effects of this from WSC’s writings. Compare them with a smaller number of Norwegian cross-country skiers preventing production of H2O2.
    Please do not ignore the Indian army in Egypt etc. despite attacks on India from Japan.
    Again source is WSC.

  • Neil Sandison 10th Aug '19 - 7:47am

    Note you spoke to 2 leavers on a train .Did you or have you spoken to any of the highly skilled arrivers filling the skills gap now appearing across wide parts of our diverse economy ?.
    I have as a liberal democrat never supported “the tyranny of the mob “because its incredible fickle and ill informed.

  • Andrew Daer 10th Aug '19 - 8:35am

    @Lorenzo Cherin, telling John McHugo to “keep it civilised” is a bit harsh; when he calls the rampant nationalism unleashed by Brexit “shameful” it is a perfectly valid observation, framed in very civilised language, and is a view shared by most of us on the remain side. We do feel ashamed, and saying so is simply to state a fact.
    His further observations about the delusional belief in past British military supremacy which some Leave voters had in mind when they placed their X on the ballot paper in June 2016 are still very relevant. For reasons unfathomable to rational minds, they think that because a previous generation won a war in 1945 (and also won various previous battles) – for the sake of argument let’s pretend the winning side were all ‘Brits’, which they obviously weren’t – it follows that today’s Brits will triumph over all the foreign chaps who have stolen our place in the world as leading manufacturers of cars, ship, steel and other goods – as soon as we are freed from the yoke of ‘domination’ from Brussels.
    It’s asking a lot to expect us to avoid what you call insulting language. The people with that delusional belief are not merely harmless crack-pots, they are damaging the country our children and grandchildren will inherit. We have a duty to prevent that if we can; in those circumstances, telling people we are ashamed of them is fair comment.

  • I’m not sure whey patriotism/pride in one’s county is sometimes seen as the enemy of internationalism/the benefits of co-operation. In Italy I have observed that public buildings display three flags – regional, national and EU – which is healthier than the scenes outside parliament where people carrying the Union Jack on the one hand and the EU flag on the other are abusing each other

  • Nonconformistradical 10th Aug '19 - 9:46am

    “I’m not sure why patriotism/pride in one’s county is sometimes seen as the enemy of internationalism/the benefits of co-operation.”

    I’m not sure why patriotism/pride in one’s country is seen as a virtue in the first place given that none of us chooses the country of our birth.

    And when one gets to the ‘my country right or wrong’ kind of patriotism – that’s downright dangerous.

  • Can I recommend everyone reads the submission by David Herdson this morning on the Political Betting website, very lengthy, but very, very relevant as to what may, may not happen, especially if Johnson & Cummings put both fingerrs up to parliamentary convention.

  • A good article up until you covered WWII.
    That war was to stop fascism and imperialism caused by the events including the economic fallout from the wall street crash in 1929. This has simularly repeated itself in 2007 and the rise of Trump, right wing extremism and brexit.
    Also in the 1930s fascism and Hitler was on the rise until defeated at Stalingrad and then the Nazis were finished off in the largest tank battle by the Russian T34s outside Minsk.
    Full credit goes to the Russians – they are part of Europe too, although the USA wants to exclude them.
    Today, it is the EU that must take on the role to defeat fascism caused from the recent 2007 wall street crash.

  • Agreed, we don’t choose the country of our birth. Neither do we choose the family we are born into. Nevertheless, most people value the sense of “belonging” of a family group and to some extent this feeling is translated by many people into “belonging” to a country. My point is that we should be able to “belong” to a wider community e.g. the EU, without negating the sense of “belonging” to a smaller political entity as well. Other countries seem to be able to maintain this balance.

    Incidentally, in regards to the wider discussion on this thread about WW2, my reason for wishing to remain in the EU is because I don’t wish my grandchildren to experience the horrors that my grandparents did and I see the EU as massively reducing this risk

  • Peter Martin 10th Aug '19 - 11:57am

    @ Ernest,

    “……it is the EU that must take on the role to defeat fascism caused from the recent 2007 wall street crash.”

    Good point about the USSR. We shouldn’t overlook the sacrifice of Russian and other East European people. Having said this, we wish them well but we don’t want to share a Parliament with them!

    If you Google {gdp USA} you’ll see just a tiny blip in the general rise of gdp. Do the same for the UK or any EU country and the graph looks far different. The USA has recovered well from the 2008 crash whereas the EU hasn’t. The election, on a minority vote, of Donald Trump has more to do with the vagaries of the American political system than any fundamental problem with the US economy. They might have a problem in not sharing out their wealth evenly enough but that’s a political rather than an economic criticism.

    So if the USA can recover from a crash? Why can’t the Europeans? It’s time the EU accepted responsibility for the rise in fascism in EU countries, rather than blaming it all on “Wall Street”.

  • WWII was not fought to stop fascism or imperialism. On the former Spain was not involved and remained “fascist” until Franco died. Most of the countries involved on both sides were imperial powers. Britain was certainly an imperial power and Churchill was an avowed imperialist.
    WWII in Europe was fought was to stop Germany occupying its neighbours. In North Africa and the Far East it was more about protecting colonial interests, also the main cause of the Vietnam war. What WWII wasn’t was a war for liberal values. Britain was an aggressive imperial power, America was segregated (even in the military) and Russia was totalitarian!

  • Lorenzo Cherin 10th Aug '19 - 12:53pm

    John McHugo

    This reply is constructive and intelligent. The utilising of another word instead of one we might have chosen is often a simple and necessary solution. Arguments are avoided and debates continued when we , all of us, do this. Your approach is welcome.

    Andrew Daer

    I do not instruct or do other than say, lets keep it civilised, not the author any more than any other, me, you , all. Nobody has a monopoly of decency, but we gain from it being extended. Brexit supporting voters are as much likely to be decent people as remain backers, in other aspects. We disagree on an important international situation, might agree on many other areas. I do not prejudge and nor should we. I detest the extremism on the right or left, nationalism, socialism, when out of control, wreak havok.

  • John King
    “You can’t feel British in isolation.”
    I am sometimes the only Briton in the room. I don’t feel any less British.
    Identities can be multilayered by the way- British Chinese, British Indian, British Pakistani, British African- Caribbean, etc
    There clearly has been a rise in racial prejudice recently.

  • Glenn
    The price of India’s involvement in WW2 was its independence. After WW2 European colonialism in Asia became unsustainable.

  • It’s less useful to talk of history in terms of nations, than in terms of regimes. Mainly democratic forces fought mainly autocratic forces in WW2, unspeakable aristocratic families fought out WW1. Whether Trafalgar or Waterloo we’re good things s depends less on whether you are English or French than whether you are for monarchy or for change. None are perfect forces. What I do have contempt for are the sorts of clowns we saw on tv after the referendum celebrating the start of ‘empire 2.0’ – as if! (In fact, you could say that empire 1 was the clobbering of the Celts, empire 2 was the New World colonies, sustained by state sanctioned piracy, empire 3 was the big land grab, guns over weaker technologies, and agencies of the British crown doing their best to be the biggest drugs cartel in history, even at the point of extreme violence and seizure of territory (Hong Kong). Then came the aristocratic and regimes wars …. then 70 years or so of relative peace with the EU. Yes, squabbles about cabbages and costs, but believe me one more European war (gods forbid) will put questions about the costs of subsidies well into context.

    So history swings. We do seem to have a strident generation of ‘seniors’ (not the ones that fought in the war with hitler) and a gentler greener generation coming up. Hope, maybe, we still live in a country with an unelected head of state, in unelected upper house, a broken method for electing to the lower house, and the fact that the majority of people who matter went to 7% of our schools. Not sure Is be as respectful of the Trafalgar day loving oldies, myself !

  • John Marriott 10th Aug '19 - 3:19pm

    @Barry E Lofty
    Glad you agree. What did I say? The usual suspects. What did Oscar Wilde say? Wasn’t it that “Patriotism is the last refuge of the scoundrel”? Time to find my old wall map with all that pink on it. No need to rise to the bait. I shan’t be contributing to this particular thread any more.

  • Ian Martin
    European colonialism might have proved unsustainable after WWII, but ending imperialism was not the reason for WWII. The point I’m trying to make is that it was not fought to further liberal internationalism. It was actually fought to protect and re-establish national borders, as well as to protect imperial interests.
    To be honest, I’m not a big fan of patriotism

  • Andrew Daer 10th Aug '19 - 4:28pm

    Interesting how this discussion about patriotism and national identity centres so much on war. My dad fought Fascism in 1939-45, but the truth is that, like Spike Milligan, he received “a post-card from the king which later turned out to be a cunningly worded invitation to take part in World War II”. Most people fought in those World Wars because they didn’t want to be called cowards, not for some high ideal. But national identity is not just about wars, and it certainly isn’t about wars fought several generations ago, by people who in many ways don’t resemble us. We live in imagined communities (copyright Benedict Anderson), and would do better to remember that the world faces an imminent threat to its existence, and start pulling together. We have common cause in the need for survival (ours and millions of other species’), and it is crazy to let ourselves be lured into nostalgic pipe-dreams by the likes of Farage, Cummings, and their charismatic spokesperson, Johnson.

  • Glenn
    One Burmese gentleman I once spoke to said the Japanese were rough (during their occupation of Burma). In my visits to Burma I never encountered any hostility as someone from the former colonial power.
    My father, a Burma Star man, fought as did the others against the brutalities of the Japanese. They were under no illusions as to the nature of the Japanese forces.
    If I were to say to him British rule in India was harsh I would get a quick rebuke, no it wasn’t he would emphatically say.

  • Ian Martin
    The belief that lands with native peoples like Australia were empty and the very idea that Britain was entitled to rule countries like India is by its nature aggressive. On top of which you can throw in various massacres, the torture of political prisoners, concentration camps, participation in the slave trade and famines. The British Empire was not cuddly and did not end voluntarily. Nor was the French empire, the Spanish one or the Belgium one.

  • Glenn
    I can write the words of the Kohima Epitaph concerning The Forgotten War.
    “When you go Home,
    Tell Them of Us
    And Say For Your Tommorrow,
    We gave Our Today.”

    They were fighting for the survial of Britain.

  • @Glenn – “WWII was won by the Americans and Russians. It sometimes seems like Europe will never forgive them for it.”
    However, the Americans have mostly succeeded in writing the critical role the Russians played in ending, firstly the war in Europe and secondly the war in Asia-Pacific.

    Aside: Our (US/UK) fear of Russia is more to do with those who sat at the top of the capitalist pyramid being scared that the Russian revolution would spread (and so unseat them) than anything else. We are fortunate to now be able to look at the archives from both sides and talk directly (although time is running out) to those involved.

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