The debate: 2016
16th Jan 2016. Telegraph. ‘Historians for Britain warn against pro-EU scare tactics.’ http://www.telegraph.co.uk/news/newstopics/eureferendum/12103724/Historians-for-Britain-warn-against-pro-EU-scare-tactics.html
This article summarises HfB’s claim that the government are wrong to suggest the EU has prevented outbreaks of conflict in Europe since WW2 – rather, they claim, NATO is to thank for this. HfB accused Downing Street of ‘scaremongering’, claiming that to leave would not be a threat to economic and national security. Rather, it is argued, the EU poses a threat to European security and promotes conflict between its members.
20th Feb 2016. Timothy Garton Ash. ‘Here’s how to argue with a Brexiter – and win.’ https://www.theguardian.com/commentisfree/2016/feb/20/how-to-argue-against-brexit-eu-fate-europe-uk-at-stake
Garton Ash puts forward several arguments encouraging citizens to vote to remain. He warns that Brexit will incur the dissolution of Britain and possibly the EU, long and tedious legal procedures, the disturbing of a comfortable level of integration with Europe secured by the EU, economic dislocation and vulnerability to terrorism, international crime and conflict, both in Britain and beyond.
3rd March 2016. Andrea Mammone. ‘For Britain and against EU: Historians for Britain Strike Again.’ https://historiansforhistory.wordpress.com/2016/03/03/for-britain-and-against-the-eu-historians-for-britain-strike-again-by-andrea-mammone/
Mammone produces a whistle-stop tour of HfB publications and denounces them as ‘demagogic’ (appealing to popular prejudice rather than rationality) and highly politicised. He challenges their desire to attribute post-war peace in Europe to NATO rather than the EU, claiming that this position pursues a narrow military definition of ‘peace’ and downplays the multifarious social, political, cultural and economic collaborations and exchanges between Britain and Europe which contributed to post-war peace.
9th March 2016. Jim Bjork. ‘Immigrants would struggle’. http://www.zocalopublicsquare.org/2016/03/09/brexit-losing-game/ideas/up-for-discussion/#Jim+Bjork
In this short article, Bjork suggests that Brexit would have ‘lamentable’ ramifications for non-UK citizens living in Britain, depriving them of the right to remain in their homes.
18th March 2016. George J. Severs. ‘AIDS Activism and the European Union.’ https://historiansforhistory.wordpress.com/2016/03/18/aids-activism-and-the-european-union-by-george-j-severs/
George J. Severs takes as a case study the struggle for gay rights in the 1980’s and 1990’s, seeking to illustrate that the European Convention on Human Rights and the free movement of activists facilitated by EU membership have worked to promote LGBT rights in the UK. He puts forward this argument as a corrective to what he sees as the lack of a historical dimension in the EU debate – at first attempted by Historians for History but since neglected.
29th March 2016. Glen O’Hara. ‘Reasons to stay in the EU, #1: you can’t have your cake and eat it.’ http://publicpolicypast.blogspot.co.uk/2016/03/reasons-to-stay-in-european-union-1-you.html (see http://publicpolicypast.blogspot.co.uk/ for further posts by O’Hara in the run-up to the referendum.)
O’Hara draws on recent historical examples to argue that Britain would lose access to the single market, and to the benefits it bestows, if she were to leave the EU. He also suggests that other benefits Britain receives from membership will be stripped from her, and that EU countries will, as past precedent indicates, be disinclined to support her.
7th April 2016. Martial Stubb. ‘What is Europe? A Medievalists Reflections on European Identity and the Referendum.’ http://www.historymatters.group.shef.ac.uk/europe-medievalists-reflections-european-identity-referendum/
Here Stubb draws on medieval history to track the development of a European identity, and asks British citizens to consider the cultural implications of their vote in the referendum.
15th April 2016. Timothy Garton Ash. ‘England can be true to itself, if liberals reclaim patriotism.’ https://www.theguardian.com/commentisfree/2016/apr/15/england-liberals-patriotism-nationalism-flag-st-george-right
Garton Ash argues that a sense of English, rather than just British, identity is on the up – and claims that it can either take a ‘conservative’ form, or ‘a liberal, progressive, open’ form. He asks citizens to draw upon figures in English history such as John Stuart Mill, Clement Atlee and George Orwell to furnish the latter form of English patriotism.
17th April 2016. Dan Snow. ‘History teaches us we CAN’T stand aside from Europe…’ http://www.dailymail.co.uk/debate/article-3543962/history-teaches-T-stand-aside-Europe-Wellington-Churchill-yes-Lady-Thatcher-confirm.html
Dan Snow argues that Britain is historically ‘entwined’ with Europe through language, religion and politics. The gist of the article is to suggest that Britain has always needed influence in Europe, as she is unavoidably involved in events across the channel. Although the EU is not a perfect system, it provides us with the influence we need to shape the future both of Britain and the rest of the world.
28th April 2016. Timothy Garton Ash. ‘How the west was lost – and why we need it back’ https://www.theguardian.com/commentisfree/2016/apr/28/how-west-was-lost-why-we-need-it-back
Historian Timothy Garton Ash claims that ‘the west’ as a concept is no longer seen to be worthy of protection by the British – having collapsed with the lack of a common enemy (Nazi Germany, the Soviet Union) to unify it. He claims that Farage, Trump and Le Pen wish to see the dissolution of the west, and that Britons should not ‘give up’ on it.
13th May 2016. Gideon Rachman. ‘Rival historians trade blows over Brexit’ https://next.ft.com/content/86c8faa8-1696-11e6-9d98-00386a18e39d
Rachman examines the debate surrounding HfB’s justifications for leaving the EU, first dividing the arguments into two camps (anti-EU and pro-EU), and then discussing the possibility of a middle-road between the two. Rachman navigates the debate with the help of three Cambridge historians, all holding markedly differing views, and concludes by weighting these views to inform his own.
14th May 2016. The Economist. ‘Historians and Brexit.’ http://www.economist.com/news/books-and-arts/21698635-and-against-britain-leaving-europe-historians-and-brexit
This article offers an interpretation of the different ways in which politicians are calling history to their aid. It then proceeds to review the works of two historians (Brendan Simms and John Gillingham) who stand on either side of the debate. Simms argues that ‘the euro zone must become a full federation reorganised on Anglo-American principles’ whereas Gillingham suggests that Europe’s economic problems are a product of the euro zone. He suggests that Brexit could force the EU to rethink its economic policies.
15th May 2016. Craig Stirling. ‘Johnson Invokes Hitler as Brexit Debate Heats Up.’ http://www.bloomberg.com/news/articles/2016-05-15/hitler-invoked-by-johnson-as-team-brexit-seeks-carney-s-silence
Stirling surveys the role of economic arguments in the EU debate, and argues that alongside criticising the Bank of England governor, pro-leave campaigner Boris Johnson has drawn deliberate parallels between Hitler’s attempt to unify Europe and the perceived aims of the EU.
16th May 2016. Robert Hutton. ‘Battle of Britain Revisited: Why Hitler Matters in Brexit Debate.’ http://www.bloomberg.com/news/articles/2016-05-16/battle-of-britain-revisited-why-hitler-matters-in-brexit-debate
Hutton looks at the ways in which leave campaigners such as Johnson and Banks have invoked World War II (and the feelings of nationalism and exceptionalism the war rouses in Britain) in support of their claims. Hutton claims that ‘historical arguments’ have no power to destabilize the ‘nostalgia for wartime heroism’ perpetuated by classic war films and the media, and argues that we are drawing the wrong lessons from our past.
17th May – 29th June. Professor Glen O’Hara. ‘Public Policy and the Past’ – blog. http://publicpolicypast.blogspot.co.uk/
Over several weeks and several blog posts, Glen O’Hara puts forward his arguments for why Britain should remain in the EU, and offers an explanation as to why the leave campaign won on 23rd June.
18th May 2016. ‘The European Union: To leave or not to leave? Martyn Rady v Richard Overy’ http://www.historytoday.com/history-today/european-union-leave-or-not-leave
Two historians take opposing sides on the Brexit debate. Rady argues that EU ideology seeks to ‘impose single solutions that are blind to complexity’, a complexity which will never and should never be erased by membership. For Rady, the EU is a threat to diversity. Overy, on the other hand, claims that the values upheld by Britain’s membership in the EU are important in maintaining peace in Europe. He believes the EU should be reformed through continued membership.
24th May 2016. Simon Schama. ‘Lessons from History for the Brexiters.’ http://www.theguardian.com/politics/2016/may/24/lessons-from-history-for-the-brexiteers
In a short letter signed by 306 other historians, Schama declares that Britain has had and should continue to exercise ‘an irreplaceable role… in Europe’, and as such sees it as her duty to ‘reaffirm… commitment to the EU’ on 23rd June 2016.
Not dated. Historians for Britain in Europe. Open Letter. http://historiansforbritainineurope.org/
This open letter, signed by 380 historians, argues that for centuries Britain has been inextricably linked to Europe. The claim is that contemporary Europe faces huge challenges – climate change and humanitarian crises for example – which can only be solved with a pooling of resources. Brexit would, it is claimed, weaken the ability to do so, and deny Britain crucial influence in Europe. Reform must come from within, rather than outside, the EU.
The website also provides many links to blogs and articles written by signatories opposing Brexit. Those dated are listed chronologically here, those without dates are listed in italics below.
Keith Thomas. ‘Remain’ http://historiansforbritainineurope.org/Remain--Sir-Keith-Thomas.pdf
Thomas begins by claiming that the history profession will be irrevocably damaged by Brexit, losing the funding of the European Research Committee and talented students and academics from across Europe. He argues that Britain has indissoluble geographical, political, economic and cultural links to Europe, links which should be celebrated rather than eschewed. Campaigners have maintained a narrow focus on economic issues, and should broaden it.
Richard Davenport-Hines. ‘The Enthusiasm of a European Historian.’ http://historiansforbritainineurope.org/#doc_davenport-hinesric
Davenport claims that the EU has been responsible for the stability and prosperity of post-war Europe, and has brought institutional and constitutional benefits not only to ex-satellite states but also to Britain. He denounces ‘leave’ campaigners as irresponsible and colonialist, drawing historical comparisons between the Brexiters and those who celebrated the outbreak of war in 1914, and ‘the Spivs’, an opportunistic group of black market criminals in the 1940’s and 1950’s.
Richard Blakemore. ‘Britain: An Island Nation?’ http://historiansforbritainineurope.org/Britain_An_Island_Nation_-_Richard_Blakemore.pdf
Blakemore draws upon Britain’s maritime history to argue that rather than isolating Britain from Europe and the rest of the world, the channel has connected it. The invasions, immigrations, trade routes and colonial endeavours central to Britain’s past were, he claims, aided rather than inhibited by the oceans that surround her.
Robert Lacey. ‘Vive la Belle Alliance! Why Her Majesty might be wrong about Brexit.’ http://historiansforbritainineurope.org/#doc_laceyrob
In this scathing piece, Lacey satirises the Queen’s pro-Brexit stance, drawing on the past to elucidate the European roots of the monarchy and of the country at large. He warns that Brexit could provoke a break-up of the UK and put strain on the still-fragile relations between the Republic of Ireland and Northern Ireland.
Thomas Otte. ‘Brexit, History and Identity (… and Hitler).’ http://historiansforbritainineurope.org/#doc_ottetho
Otte responds to Boris Johnson’s comparison between the EU and the expansionist policies of Nazi Germany in May 2016, claiming that Johnson deliberately played up on popular notions of Britain as ‘proud, prosperous and seemingly standing alone’ throughout history. He denounces the Hitler-EU comparison as mythical, using as evidence his interpretation of the Nazi regime. He uses historical examples to stress the longstanding relationship between Britain and Europe, and claims that historical precedent suggests it is wise to vote remain.
Thomas Otte. “’A wider strategic purpose’ – a foreign policy view of the referendum’ http://historiansforbritainineurope.org/#doc_ottetho
Otte argues for remaining in the EU on the basis that the necessary depletion in national sovereignty required by membership increases national power and influence. To deal with the issues presented by the current international landscape, he claims, we need the support of the EU. He also argues that history tells us that Britain will never escape implication in European affairs, whether or not she remains in the EU.
Charles J Esdaile. ‘The European Union and Peace in Europe: a response to Boris and the Brexiteers.’ http://historiansforbritainineurope.org/ (scroll down on this link for Esdaile's contribution.)
Esdaile responds to Boris Johnson’s comparisons between the expansionist policies of Hitler and Napoleon and the EU – arguing that whilst the EU does seek to ‘unite Europe in a single polity’, it does not seek to do so through force, top-down hegemony and centralisation as did Hitler and Napoleon. He claims that the EU promotes democracy and equality, and is not doomed to disintegration. As such, Britain should remain a member state.
Diarmaid MacCulloch. ‘Reformation as Brexit: No, No, No’ http://historiansforbritainineurope.org/#doc_maccullochdia
MacCulloch responds to Giles Fraser’s appeal to the spirit of the Reformation as support for Brexit, claiming that it was an ‘international movement’, which sought ‘continent-wide unity’ rather than division and isolation. According to MacCulloch, it is the remain campaign which reflects the spirit of the European and British Reformations.
Guy Rowlands. ‘The Economic Illiteracy and dangers of Brexit.’. See also ‘Brexit and the threat to our service industries’ – published in The Times on 10th June 2016, on the same page.) http://historiansforbritainineurope.org/#doc_rowlandsguy
Rowlands, a self-professed supporter of Historians for Britain, rejects the arguments in favour of leaving the EU. He specifies that the EU certainly needs tremendous reform, but denounces as ‘naïve’ the notion that Europe will readily agree to a new trading framework and claims that Brexit would put strain on relationships between members states and damage economic growth and job prospects in Britain.
Professor Sir Michael Howard. ‘Brexit: a threat to international stability.’ http://historiansforbritainineurope.org/#doc_howardmic
Howard credits HfB’s essays with being ‘scholarly and interesting’, but says that they display ignorance of current affairs. He claims that we need the EU to deal with ‘the dangers of political and social disintegration’ which mark the modern world.
Proessor Beatrice Heuser. ‘The Copernican revolution in postwar Europe.’ http://historiansforbritainineurope.org/#doc_heuserbea
Heuser claims that alongside NATO, the EU put a stop to the ‘internal bickering and balance of power games’ which characterised European history from the Pax Romana through to the European defence integration of 1948 and 1950.
Professor Charles Esdaile. ‘The Myth of ‘Standing Alone’. http://historiansforbritainineurope.org/#doc_esdailecha2
Esdaile confronts a strand of British popular consciousness which understands Britain to have won past wars and battles alone, and has been used to defend Brexit. Esdaile takes several historical examples such as the two world wars to explain that Britain’s success has always been buttressed, indeed facilitated, by her alliances with other forces in Europe and beyond.
24th May 2016. Niall Ferguson. Speech – ‘Historians Against Brexit’ http://historiansforbritainineurope.org/#doc_fergusonnia
Ferguson argues that ‘applied history’ suggests Britain should remain in the EU. He claims that the EU has improved British economic performance and increased British influence in the EU. Ferguson denies that the EU is a superstate, and claims that history shows that EU integration has made for stability in Europe.
25th May 2016. Heather Stewart. ‘Vote to leave EU would ‘condemn Britain to irrelevance’ say historians’ http://www.theguardian.com/politics/2016/may/25/vote-to-leave-eu-will-condemn-britain-to-irrelevance-say-historians
Here Stewart summarises Simon Schama’s letter to the Guardian in defence of the vote remain campaign (see above), offering further detail on prominent signatories such as Niall Ferguson. The article glosses important vote remain campaign strategies such as warnings about economic dislocation, and explains why the support of a group of senior retired military personnel was harnessed in favour of vote leave.
25th May 2016. David Abulafia. ‘EU referendum. Historians can’t predict the future when past questions are unanswered.’ http://www.ibtimes.co.uk/eu-referendum-historians-cant-predict-future-when-past-questions-are-unanswered-1562018
In this article, Abalufia denounces Schama’s statement, signed by over 300 historians (see above) as ‘extraordinarily brief’ and expressing ‘an opinion about the future… without any evidence’. Abulafia claims that Brexit supporters desire the UK to be more fully engaged with Europe and the world, something which the EU impedes. His main point is that history, ‘recent and distant’, can help answer fundamental questions central to the debate, e.g. is Britain’s legal system compatible with those of the member states, and is it the EU or NATO which has secured post-war peace in Europe?
26th May 2016. William Pelz. ‘Two Sides to Every History?’ https://plutopress.wordpress.com/tag/historians-for-britain/
In response to Rachman’s article in the FT (see ‘Rival historians trade blows over Brexit, published 13th May 2016), Pelz argues that the notion of ‘two sides’ is reductive, obscuring the ‘myriad of viewpoints’, not least those of ‘the common people’. He criticises the propensity to nod to visible political figures when invoking history in the debate, and asks ‘when future historians discuss the UK’s relationship with the EU, will they discuss the complex, sometimes contradictory, feelings of the average citizen?’
1st June 2016. Felix Klos. ‘Boris Johnson’s Abuse of Churchill’ http://www.historytoday.com/felix-klos/boris-johnsons-abuse-churchill
Felix Klos challenges Boris Johnson’s invocation of Winston Churchill in support of the leave campaign, arguing that he ‘[paints] a barbarically simplified and ill-informed picture of what Churchill stood for.’ Klos argues that Churchill saw union with Europe as the only way to prevent political conflict in the post-war world, and claims that, contrary to Johnson’s statements, the European Union is Churchill’s legacy.
3rd June 2016. Paul Lay. ‘Charles de Gaulle: Unlikely Ally of the Brexiters’ http://www.historytoday.com/paul-lay/charles-de-gaulle-unlikely-ally-brexiteers
As Martyn Rady and Richard Overy have demonstrated, both sides of the EU debate can ‘appeal to rationality and reason as well as the past’ in support of their cause. Lay looks at one past actor who has been used in this way: the French statesman Charles de Gaulle, who in the 1960’s opposed Britain’s entry to the European Economic Community on the grounds that she had ‘very marked and very original habits and traditions.’ Lay shows that whilst to an extent this is the case, Britain has historically, through the monarchy for example, been inextricably connected to Europe, and argues that these connections cannot and will not be dissolved, even if Britain leaves the EU.
7th June 2016. Dr Andrea Mammone. ‘Welcome to the World of Europe’s far right.’ http://www.aljazeera.com/indepth/opinion/2016/06/world-europe-160605132634954.html
Mammone argues that the continent is experiencing a ‘nationalistic wave’, and that ‘far right’ ideologies are being ‘borrowed’ by mainstream politics and anti-EU discourses. He claims that the result of this might well be the dissolution of the ideal of a united Europe, and a challenge to the ‘peace and… prosperity’ it promotes.
17th June 2016. Simon Schama. ‘Let us spurn Brexit and remain a beacon of tolerance.’ https://next.ft.com/content/7c7f2dbe-3474-11e6-bda0-04585c31b153
Schama’s article argues that the ‘passions’ driving the leave campaign are not about the economy or democracy, but are emotional and belong to the current fashion of scapegoating immigrants as the cause of societal problems. Schama uses historical examples such as the Aliens Act of 1905 which sought to restrict the flow of Jewish immigrants into Britain to suggest this is a persistent historical phenomenon. He claims that there is no ‘insular’ and exceptional Britain to protect from immigration, rather that Britain’s development is indebted to migrants and we should celebrate the diversity they bring to Britain.
24th June 2016. Emma Mason. ‘EU referendum: how significant is Britain’s vote to leave? Historians debate.' http://www.historyextra.com/article/feature/eu-referendum-what-now-how-significant-britain-vote-leave-historians-debate
Four academic historians put forward arguments for each side of the Brexit debate, considering issues such as independence and national identity, Britain’s historical connections with, or distinction from Europe, economic ramifications, patriotism and international relations.
29th June 2016. Dr Natalia Nowakowska. ‘Poland, the UK and the Brexit Vote.’ http://somervillehistorian.blogspot.co.uk/
Here Nowakowska explicates the longstanding relationship between Poland and the UK, and explains that the Brexit vote has ramifications far beyond Britain. Just as the vote as impacted on Polish politics, Poland will, she claims, exercise an important influence on coming negotiations between the EU and the UK.
7th July 2016. Edward Madigan. ‘Salvaging the Past in an Uncertain Present: Brexit, the Peace Process, and Anglo-Irish Relations’. https://historiansforhistory.wordpress.com/category/historians4history/
In this article, Madigan explores the ways in which ‘memory and interpretation of history’ have shaped both the conflict and the peace process in the Republic of Ireland and Northern Ireland in recent decades. He surveys the different ways in which Irish involvement in World War One was remembered by the Republic, Unionists and Nationalists, and charts the ramifications of this difference in cultural memory - for example the 1987 IRA bombing of a Remembrance Sunday service in Enniskillen. Madigan concludes by demonstrating that the attempt to reintegrate Irish perspectives on World War One since the late 1980’s has contributed to ‘the emergence of a new, more positive and conciliatory commemorative culture on these islands’. He suggests, in this way, that historical narrative can be a force for good.