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Digital Subscriptions > Prospect Magazine > May 2019 > Ghosts of Brexits past

Ghosts of Brexits past

In the past 2,000 years, Britain has detached from Europe eight times. And every time we eventually returned

410 The first Brexit: enforced detachment

After three and a half centuries of Roman rule, Britannia is declared “on your own” by the emperor Honorius. He withdrew his legions to defend Gaul. Britannia is left on Europe’s fringe throughout the Dark Ages. Its sovereignty is restored, sort of. But the arrival of Augustine from Rome precipitates the first Euroreferendum, at the Synod of Whitby in 664. The Ionans of Lindisfarne are defeated, and victory goes to Wilfrid of Ripon and the pro-Rome faction. England agrees to join Europe’s Catholic community under the authority of the Pope. For a millennium it becomes a faith-taker not a faith-maker.

1016 The second Brexit: The first Norwegian option

Following the Viking invasion, a Saxon monarchy with ancestral roots in the heart of the continent is usurped, as Canute is crowned in London and England joins his Scandinavian empire. It is a proto-EFTA, trading with the Baltics and Russia. But it does not last.

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InProspect's May issue: Tom Clark explores how British politics has ended up in crisis and suggests that a proper constitution could have avoided the current chaos and may well be necessary now to avoid the same problems in the future. Elsewhere in the issue: Kevin Maguire profiles Labour deputy leader Tom Watson who says that “if needs must” he would join a government of national unity. Max Rashbrooke examines Jacinda Ardern’s government in New Zealand and the ways the country is being transformed, ultimately suggesting that it could be an example for Britain to follow. Also, Stefanie Marsh follows the work of a donor detective who is helping children conceived by anonymous sperm donation to find their biological parents and Francesca Wade shows how Virginia Woolf is inspiring a new generation of women writers.