Fintan O’Toole: British will soon pick at the scab that will form over Brexit

Dilemma of continental influence that led Britain to join EU returns as it leaves

British prime minister Boris Johnson: “his bluster managed to unite the continent against British interests”. Photograph: Paul Grover/AFP via Getty Images

British prime minister Boris Johnson: “his bluster managed to unite the continent against British interests”. Photograph: Paul Grover/AFP via Getty Images

In 2001, a newly elected Tory MP agonised about Britain’s future in the European Union. On the one hand, he dreaded party meetings where fanatics and cranks were forever banging on about Europe: “When, oh when”, he sighed, “will the Tories stop picking this scab? . . . The Tories should talk less about themselves (for which, read discussions on ‘Europe’) and more about what they can do for the country.”

On the other hand, he wanted to be seen as a “moderate Eurosceptic” and a defender of “a thousand years of British parliamentary democracy” against Brussels bureaucrats. (Never mind that Britain was 300 years old and became a democracy in the 20th century.) He had, in fact, built his career by adopting amusing variations on this pose.

The Irish Times
Please subscribe or sign in to continue reading.
The Irish Times

How can I keep reading?

You’ve reached an article that is only available to Irish Times subscribers.

Subscribe today and get the full picture for just €1 for the first month.

Subscribe No obligation, cancel any time.