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The myth of Brexit as imperial nostalgia

The myth it fuels is not that empire can return, but that it hardly mattered in the first place

By Robert Saunders  

Newspaper covers in the wake of the 2016 referendum

In the days and weeks after the Brexit vote, headlines like “The Empire Strikes Back” became a theme of international commentary. For the New York Times, the vote to Leave marked “England’s Last Gasp of Empire,” the diseased reaction of a nation “sickened by nostalgia,” while the Washington Post diagnosed “nostalgia for empire” as a “cornerstone of nationalist politics.” Writers of the calibre of David Olusaga, Onni Gust, Dane Kennedy, Gary Younge and Marc-William Palen saw in Brexit a case-study in “postcolonial melancholia,” driven by “a nostalgic…

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