The source of the UK’s exceptionalism

Chris Kendall’s always excellent blog raised the question of the ‘Muddled Mindsets’ behind the UK’s Brexit negotiation. In short the British exceptionalism that leads its government machine consistently to misread the EU and its instincts, motivations, desire.

My summary is that the UK is unique in three ways that make it very hard for it to ‘see’ the EU. (Giles Radice  wrote an excellent book over twenty years ago ‘Offshore Britain’ which goes into this in greater depth.)

First, an unbalanced , FPTP system, where there is no tradition of sharing power. It also, contra sceptics, has an unchecked, extremely powerful executive in Parliament (Hailsham’s elected dictatorship) whose frightening implications on Brexit we are only now beginning to enjoy.

Second, a unitary state (a sub set of the above but with subtler implications) that does not share power or handle federalist concepts with any ease.

Third, no recent history of defeat/ collapse of democracy. The UK has a ‘good war’ myth of WW II which underlines much of current belief in exceptionalism (and superiority.) UKIP rallies frequently invoke the Battle of Britain, RAF symbols etc.

Every other State in the EU has some  mix of the opposite above in its DNA: fair voting systems; federal structures; traditions of sharing power; the memory of dictatorships, defeat, humiliations. Brits don’t (although one could argue its defeats are slower and more indirect e.g. end of empire, Suez debacle, IMF 1976 etc.)

The irony is now that the Brits are imposing on themselves a defeat to rival any of those visited upon the other EU states. It may therefore be that the disastrous Brexit ‘experiment’ will only drive the Brits back to Europe- after a chastening time outside. Maybe.