Europe indulged the UK for years following the second world war. But what happens now Britain is walking away from the EU?
Here is one angle I haven’t seen covered on our Brexit revolution.
You may be bored with reading about how it will affect our economy, migration and sovereignty – or even how it will affect lawyers, given the many conferences and briefings that have taken place over the last few months (and I have covered it extensively, too).
Instead, here are some thoughts about how it might affect our image, the national myth by which we and others view Britain.
Since the end of the second world war, we have been sustained by many myths and stereotypes - fair play and the gentleman’s agreement, for instance - but maybe the chief one has been the ‘we won the war’ mantra. Many jokes, football chants and TV programmes bear it out.
The reality was much more complex, of course, in view of the towering war-time roles of the then Soviet Union and the US. By and large, our European neighbours, grateful for our iconic leadership at that terrible time, have been willing to indulge us. And so for 70 years we have slid onwards, stretching the myth thinner and thinner as the decades passed, until the second world war has become an event that nearly all of us have had to learn about at school.
Now the myth has snapped.
It will be replaced by something new. It is far too early to tell what the new myth will be, at least from the point of view of Europe and the rest of the world. But there are indications in the early response of the EU institutions to the Brexit vote. We are the partner who walked out of the marriage, finding the other partner no longer sufficiently attractive or dynamic.
The other partner is the ball and chain, stopping us from going out in the world and making more money, and saying whom we should invite to dinner.
Or, in another variant of the same image of the person who rejects everything, it is a shame that the Brexit vote came at the same time as the Euro 2016 football championship. Hooligan is one of the less fortunate contributions of the English language to several other languages. Our hooligans have been among the worst misbehavers in France.
Now, we as a country have kicked over the furniture, interrupting other people trying to get on with their lives, chanting about how rubbish they are. We are the new hooligans.
There is of course another narrative to these facts: that we are saving Europe from itself, that they will be grateful to us in years to come for pulling down the rotten structure. That is the equivalent of the departing spouse saying to the other at the doorway: ‘I am doing this for you, dear.’ It is rare for the abandoned spouse, or café owner sweeping up the shattered glass, to express thanks for the sophisticated foresight of the person who has done them harm.
Whatever the new national myth turns out to be, we and our neighbours will have to live with it for years.
It will take time for the new image to emerge, and its eventual form will also depend on our handling of the negotiations
It is not comfortable if the national myth is a negative one. We can ask the Germans about that. It would be a rare irony indeed, if - after all these years of taunting the Germans about the war - we and the Germans changed national images at around the same time: they to become the compassionate and tolerant ones, welcoming in a million Syrian refugees with remarkably few problems; and we to become – no, no, no, nothing even in the same galaxy as their old image built on the reality of war, tyranny and mass murder, but the new hooligans all the same (in the mould of the ones we know from Euro 2016).
The headlines about the Brexit vote overturning the post-war world order make this seem a possible outcome.
It will take time for the new image to emerge, and its eventual form will also depend on our handling of the negotiations, and indeed subsequent post-Brexit developments. But once it has emerged and hardened, it will affect us all for decades.
The revolution brought about by just over half of our fellow voting citizens, sometimes for reasons unrelated to the EU’s actual role in the UK, is in its opening days. It has seen already remarkable political earthquakes, and will doubtless see more.
Events are largely out of our control, but to the extent that we each have a part to play we should make the most strenuous efforts to avoid lumbering ourselves with an image that we - and our children and grandchildren - will have to struggle against for a long time.
Jonathan Goldsmith is a consultant and former secretary-general at the Council of Bars and Law Societies of Europe, which represents around a million European lawyers through its member bars and law societies. He blogs weekly for the Gazette on European affairs