Newspaper article The Evening Standard (London, England)

We Might Be Leaving the EU but We're Very Much Part of Europe; Our Links to the Continent Have Run Deep for Centuries, Both Economically and Culturally, and Must Be Cherished

Newspaper article The Evening Standard (London, England)

We Might Be Leaving the EU but We're Very Much Part of Europe; Our Links to the Continent Have Run Deep for Centuries, Both Economically and Culturally, and Must Be Cherished

Article excerpt

Byline: Richard J Evans

IWAS recently at Gatwick Airport, where I came across an advert for one of the airlines that fly from there. "Europe," it proclaimed in large bold letters, "is closer than you think." Yes, I thought: actually, we're in it. Not long ago we used to refer to "the Continent", as in the old joke: "Harwich for the Continent, Frinton for the incontinent", but now it seems we don't think of ourselves as a part of Europe at all.

Yet as Boris Johnson so wisely said in his speech on June 24 after the EU referendum, "We cannot turn our backs on Europe. We are part of Europe, our children and our grandchildren will continue to have a wonderful future as Europeans." The European Union is not the same as Europe, though many people seem to think it is.

Over the past few years I have been researching and writing a history of Europe in the 19th century, from the Battle of Waterloo to the outbreak of the First World War, and it has struck me that throughout this era, when politicians were wont to boast from time to time of Britain's "splendid isolation", the UK was in fact closely bound into the rest of Europe.

In 1938, on the eve of the Second World War, British Prime Minister Neville Chamberlain referred to Czechoslovakia as "a far-off country of which we know nothing". Such an attitude would have struck the average Briton in the 19th century as strange. This was, after all, the first age of tourism, after the French Revolution had put an end to the aristocratic Grand Tour. While Grand Tourists stuck to classical sites, mainly in Italy, the middle-class tourist took in Central Europe, Germany and the Habsburg Empire.

British public opinion closely followed political events on the Continent. When the Italian radical Giuseppe Garibaldi visited Britain in the 1850s he was not only feted as a hero but even had a biscuit named after him. Even more remarkably, Lajos Kossuth, forced to flee after the crushing of the Hungarian independence movement by Habsburg armies in 1840, attracted vast crowds when he arrived in Britain to deliver impassioned speeches in an antiquated English learned mostly from reading Shakespeare.

All this reflected the fact that liberalism on the Continent was thought to be following in the wake of its more advanced and successful counterpart in Britain: the Italians and Hungarians were trying to become more British, and so became heroes to British public opinion.

The great movements of liberal social reform, such as feminism, were not just British though nobody outside the UK followed the radical and sometimes violent campaign of the English suffragettes they were international. German, French or Czech women who fought for the right to vote thought of themselves as part of a wider struggle.

Radical terrorist movements also spanned the Continent, with Italian revolutionary Felice Orsini ordering bombs from Sheffield to blow up Emperor Napoleon III of France (he did not succeed) and a Russian anarchist holed up in London in the siege of Sidney Street in 1911, or so it is thought: terrorist violence, after all, is nothing new. …

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