British Identity, Brexit and the End of the Empire

British Identity, Brexit and the End of the Empire

As the pre-election debates heats up in Britain, one thing is certain — that the country’s collective identity as either British or as citizens of wider Europe is still seriously polarized, and even the outcome of the election is unlikely to unite a divided nation or provide an answer to this complicated identity crisis.

Contrary to the simplistic view that this is as a result of immigration, some historians believe that it is borne out of a subconscious desire to return to the days of greatness that the British empire had prior to the beginning of their demise.

In the context of other large scale empires, Britain’s demise has been short-lived thus far. The Roman Empire spent 300 years falling from its pinnacle moment of greatness, clinging on to its powers by any means necessary and never submitting to other powers which may dilute their influence. Hindsight provides us the luxury of analysing the Roman Empire over the course of several hundred years and makes it easy for historians and political analysts to draw parallels between certain behaviors, such as rejecting large supranational powers and trying to retain sovereignty and power — much of the basis of the bubbling eurosceptic movement which resulted in the national referendum in 2016.

A desire to enter into new trade deals with commonwealth nations could signify a nostalgia for the past. Nations such as India and Singapore also happen to be widely emerging economies with successful, innovative and deeply competitive tertiary sectors. Some of the systems left behind by colonialism lend themselves to future partnerships, based on free-market principles and de jure democratic processes. Whether this is a tangible reality or a misplaced confidence is a matter for history to decide, but the kinship and shared sensibility between ex-colonial nations with such historical relationships is not to be ignored.

Whatever the outcome, history tells us it is difficult to reclaim the glory days of the past. Will Britain thrive as an independent nation in a global world, or is her position within a greater European superstate still the best option for economic prosperity and social harmony?

More information:

Read: Important Historical Sites of the British Empire

Read: Brexit and the British Empire

Watch: Empire Builders – British Empire

Buy: Globe Trekker – Rise & Fall of the British Raj DVD

Study Guide: The Lost World of Joseph Banks

Watch: The Grassroots Tour – Colonial Relics of the Raj

Watch: Historic Walks – Albertopolis, London: Age of Empire

Main Image: The Natural History Museum, Albertopolis, London. Pilot Productions ©

By Sofi Summers