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
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.