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Illustration by Ben Jennings

The ghosts of Brexits past—no matter how hard we try to leave Europe, we always end up going back

Over the last 2,000 years we've never been able to make up our minds

By Simon Jenkins   May 2019

410: The first Brexit—enforced detachment

After three and a half centuries of Roman rule, Britannia is declared “on your own” by the emperor Honorius. He withdrew his legions to defend Gaul. Britannia is left on Europe’s fringe throughout the Dark Ages. Its sovereignty is restored, sort of. But the arrival of Augustine from Rome precipitates the first Euro-referendum, at the Synod of Whitby in 664. The Ionans of Lindisfarne are defeated, and victory goes to Wilfrid of Ripon and the pro-Rome faction. England agrees to join Europe’s Catholic community under the authority of the Pope. For a millennium it becomes a faith-taker not a faith-maker.

1016: The second Brexit—The first Norwegian option

Following the Viking invasion, a Saxon monarchy with ancestral roots in the heart of the continent is usurped, as Canute is crowned…

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