Obsession with World War played role in Brexit, says Harris

Robert Harris, author of ‘Fatherland’, returns to the Inside Politics podcast

British author Robert Harris: ‘We’ve fallen into this very simplistic kind of Churchillian myth.’ File photograph: Norbert Millauer/AFP/Getty Images

British author Robert Harris: ‘We’ve fallen into this very simplistic kind of Churchillian myth.’ File photograph: Norbert Millauer/AFP/Getty Images

 

An unhealthy national obsession with the UK’s role in the second World War played a role in creating the conditions for Brexit, according to best-selling author Robert Harris.

Harris is a former political journalist who has written 10 bestselling novels: Fatherland, Enigma, Archangel, Pompeii, Imperium, The Ghost, Lustrum, The Fear Index, An Officer and a Spy, and Conclave.

His latest book, Munich, is set against the backdrop of the international conference that averted the outbreak of war in 1938.

In an interview with Hugh Linehan for The Irish Times Inside Politics podcast, Harris, who opposes Brexit, says the divergence between Britain’s proud memory of the second World War and that of other European countries “has led to the state we’re in now”.

“Part of the reason that I wanted to write Munich is because of this other half of the story which never gets told. And we’ve fallen into this very simplistic kind of Churchillian myth. And I think it does us damage and I think that it’s helped lead to Brexit.”

The 1938 Munich Conference is now best remembered for British prime minister Neville Chamberlain’s pronouncement of “peace for our time” upon his return to London, after war with Germany had been temporarily averted.

Chamberlain’s deal was later criticised as appeasement that emboldened Adolf Hitler, a historical view challenged by Harris and explored in his novel.

“It’s hard for us to say it in a fair light, but I don’t think there was much alternative for any British leader at that time but to try and avoid war with Germany,” he says.

‘Massive victory’

Harris, a former Labour party donor and a critic of party leader Jeremy Corbyn, says he believes a general election today could result in a “massive victory” for Labour and a national change in course on Brexit.

“I think a year from now things will be much clearer, but it’s fairly obvious that the Labour Party is inching towards a sort of commitment to the single market and probably a commitment to a second [Brexit] referendum”.

Despite this, Harris does not welcome the prospect of a Corbyn-led government.

“The irony is that the right wing of the Tory party could conceivably bring to power the most left wing, Venezuelan-loving government in British history.

“It’s a perfect storm. All we now need is the queen to die and that’s it, I honestly don’t know where we’ll be headed.”

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