Brexit’s Colonial Roots: ‘The Empire Was Celebrated as A Great Thing’

Oxford Professor Danny Dorling on Brexit’s Colonial Roots: 

In the view of Oxford Professor , a British elite drunk on nationalism is responsible for the Brexit disaster. Raised in the traditions of the British Empire, they continue to glorify the crimes committed during colonialism.

 © Jörg Schindler | Der Spiegel

DER SPIEGEL: Professor Dorling, Boris Johnson appears to be just a few steps away from Downing Street. Are the prospects good for Britain?

Dorling: I recently met a 75-year-old lady on a train coming into Oxford who told me that many of her friends, as well as her, have recently joined the Conservative Party solely for the purpose of stopping Boris, as they then possibly get a vote. But unless they joined at least three months ago, then they may not be allowed to vote in any leadership election.         

DER SPIEGEL: But isn’t he exactly the type of leader the country is longing for?

Dorling: He may be the kind of leader who can absorb all of the sadness and anger at what has happened. Only a very small minority of people in Britain tell pollsters they would like to see him as prime minister. Boris is dangerous and lacks principals or a moral compass. This is all very well known. Luckily enough members of parliament, including those in his own party, know this. He could become prime minister because a small number of members of parliament like his thuggish approach.

DER SPIEGEL: In your book “Rule Britannia”, you argue that the main reason for Brexit was that “a small number of people had a dangerous and imperialist misconception of Britain’s standing in the world.” Is Boris one of them?

Dorling: Yes, Boris and member of parliament Jacob Rees-Mogg, are the more obvious ones. But there are many others. They’re almost all white men with similar backgrounds. Almost none of them were average or poor. They were in the top kind of one percent or five percent in society. Take the billionaire James Goldsmith for instance, who started a party purely to demand a referendum on our membership in the European Union. Many have forgotten that because it was 25 years ago. It’s a wider group of people, many of them educated in Eton and a lot of other private schools where old-fashioned history was taught longer than in public schools. Sometimes they even teach it nowadays.

DER SPIEGEL: What do you mean by old-fashioned history?

Dorling: Well, using textbooks from decades earlier. And talking about national pride all the time, having a school chapel like an Oxford College Chapel in which the names of all the old boys who died in the wars are engraved. The central monument in Oxford in Bonn Square is a memorial for the English who died taking over an entire province of India. The people who pushed for Brexit and have been pushing for it since the 1990s were much more likely to come from that kind of a background, where the empire was celebrated as a great thing. We civilized most of the world. The empire is bigger than all the other European empires put together.

DER SPIEGEL: The empire is long gone though.

Dorling: But it still exists in the idea of Britain. Britain only came together to form an empire. The act of union was done at a point when we realized that the Spanish were going past us with ships full of gold. And we’d be better off not fighting each other and fighting them and taking over more of the world than Spain. And that sense of greatness persisted because we were never invaded.

DER SPIEGEL: Which is partly a myth.

Dorling: But a very powerful one. The act of invasion, even if you are on the winning side, tells you that things aren’t necessarily permanent. You replace your elite who were in charge because they’ve failed to protect you. If you’re on the losing side of a war, you have the most almighty social transformation. If we’d been invaded in the Second World War, which it came close to, that would’ve helped us get rid of the empire idea of greatness.

DER SPIEGEL: It would’ve been better for Britain if it had lost the War? Seriously?

Dorling: I am not saying that. But you’ve got to remember how unimportant we were. The Battle of Britain made us great again. We were on the winning side. We reconstructed history, we made endless army films. My childhood was comics all featuring the great British soldiers. You cannot escape that myth. Look at the room where I just gave my lecture …

DER SPIEGEL: … The Palmerston Room in St. John’s College.

Dorling: They named it after one of the most brutal British prime ministers of all. He started the Opium War with China. His successor William Gladstone called it the most immoral war in the history of humankind. Can you imagine a room in Germany named after a Second World War general? Is there a Rommel Room anywhere?

DER SPIEGEL: Not in Germany, at least.

Dorling: And that’s what I mean. You go into Westminster Abbey, it’s worth doing. Westminster Abbey looks a bit like Narnia. There are all these statues that are frozen, like in Narnia, where all the animals are frozen in stone. And all the statues are in effect of people who have slaughtered many people. And this is a country in which we still celebrate them.

DER SPIEGEL: Are the remnants of the Empire visible in normal places as well?

Dorling: You can see them everywhere. Go to the home counties, this ring of counties around London. Many people who live there are descendants of men who worked for as long as 30 years or more for the colonial offices in India. Then they came back and got a cottage with roses around the door, the one everybody is dreaming of. It was their kind of reward, a way to move up socially.So, our geography of the South of England is a geography based on the empire. And then, of course, there are the cities in the north of England that became rich because they were at the heart of the slave trade or various other trades which only existed and got so large because of unfair terms of trade with the colonies.

DER SPIEGEL: The British historian David Olusoga, whose father is Nigerian, writes in “Black and British: A Forgotten History” that the country is in a state of denial about certain aspects of its past. Why is that?

Dorling: Because it is too painful. We built up the most effective slave trade the world has ever known for 400 years. We depopulated almost the entire continent of Africa. You can see it on world maps. Then we go, oh, you do know that the Spanish and Portuguese started it first. And we teach children about the philanthropist William Wilberforce, who fought that system, as if we’re the people who ended slavery in the world. It’s remarkable.

DER SPIEGEL: But isn’t it always the case that nations glorify their past?

Dorling: Not always. The effect on you if you’re English on a visit to Berlin is stunning because it’s so alien to be somewhere where violence isn’t celebrated. You go into a war memorial, and there’s just a woman holding a child crying, no soldiers. Whereas in my city — I grew up in Oxford — the highest statue on the public high street is still the statue of Cecil Rhodes. He was one of the most inhuman human beings in the history of mankind. He was probably also a pedophile. The irony is that more people are worried about whether he’s a pedophile than the fact that he happily watched thousands of young black children die in his mines.

DER SPIEGEL: You argue in your book that Britain had to join the EU in the early 1970s because it had lost its colonies and was in economic decline as a result.

Dorling: Yeah, things were going badly wrong. We were tanking economically. We were crashing down because, every year, India was buying less woven cotton from Manchester mills because as a free nation it didn’t need to anymore. And the assumption of joining was that, by joining the new market of the European community we would do well.

DER SPIEGEL: Which you did.

Dorling: But for many people it felt like a national humiliation.

DER SPIEGEL: Do you have evidence that the longing for the old empire was the biggest driver for Brexit?

Dorling: Not evidence, I think it is largely subconscious. But we do have evidence about the immigration worries. Why do the British hold such a disdain for immigrants and foreigners? Because our Empire textbooks told us we were superior to all these people.

DER SPIEGEL: But Britain has also been a largely successful multicultural nation because of the Empire.

Dorling: It is multicultural. It’s a large family, but an extremely patriarchal family in which the domineering and violent and brutal father is white.

DER SPIEGEL: Do you think Theresa May’s immigration obsession has its roots in the Empire myth?

Dorling: Well, yes. She grew up not far from the place where I grew up. From the age of six, I was living in the Oxford suburb Risinghurst. If I had lived 40 meters further east, I’d have gone to her school. In my school there were a lot of black and Asian pupils. Urdu was the second language. Whereas Theresa May’s school was an all-white school.


Dorling: Don’t forget that was in a time when black people were seen as dirty and beneath. Black men were not allowed to work in the car factory until the 1950s in Oxford. She grew up in a deeply racist time and deeply racist environment.

DER SPIEGEL: But does that make her a racist politician?

Dorling: YES. She may not know she’s racist, but she is. As home secretary, she instigated policies to take away or deny the right of people to live in Britain, especially people who were Afro-Caribbean. A lot of them were deported. You do not do that to so many people without having racism within you.

DER SPIEGEL: It must be a relief for you that she’ll be gone soon.

Dorling: Yes. Yes, it is. Although she was beginning to serve a useful purpose toward the end in that she could get nothing at all done, so at least she was blocking her party from causing the social harm they normally do.

DER SPIEGEL: How does all this fit into the narrative that it was the left behind who actually shaped the Brexit outcome?

Dorling: Oh, well, it was the left behind Tories. If you look at the parts of the country devoted to Leave, which are mostly in the South of England, you will find that most of the Leave voters there were middle class. The typical UK Leave voter lived in a southern English county like Wiltshire or Dorset, the traditional Conservative heartland. A majority of people there always voted Tory, had a house, which might be worth 300,000 now. But their Children are struggling to get a mortgage, and their grandchildren have no chance. Done everything they’ve been told to do. Wasn’t working. They’re left behind in places that we don’t think of as left behind.

DER SPIEGEL: But many of the southern parts of the UK are doing pretty well economically.

Dorling: It looks on the average like they’re doing okay. You’ve got to remember the top 10 percent in this country take 40 percent of all income. So, in an average Southern county, like Hampshire, most people are struggling. Somerset, where Jacob Rees-Mogg is, has the highest proportion of people on the minimum wage. People just wanted to return to what they’ve had.

DER SPIEGEL: Let’s assume there will be a hard Brexit. Is it possible that Jacob Rees-Mogg, Boris Johnson and the other nationalists are right, that Britain will succeed and maybe head toward an Empire 2.0?

Dorling: Oh, yes. The way you do it is you turn the whole of Britain into a Treasure Island. And we know how to do that because most of the world’s Treasure Islands are under the Privy Council, like the Cayman Islands, Guernsey and Jersey and the Isle of Man. We know how to do shadowy Panama-style banking. It would be the death knell for all those islands, by the way, because if you can do it in London, why do it somewhere else?

DER SPIEGEL: You mean transforming Britain into a sort of XXL version of the Cayman Islands?

Dorling: We rapidly move towards that. It is exactly what the elite of the hard exit people want. The plan is that we offer really low tax rates for billionaires. And we can have the great London party season revised again and the May balls in Mayfair return again. The world’s super rich would come to their London home for that part of the year. And they can have servants again. We’ll have many more servants in the future if the Brexiteers get their way. We will boost our education sector. We will go to American-style fees, £60,000 to come to my university for the children of the very wealthy from China and India. And if you’ve worked hard enough and you’re talented and you’ve got it in you, you can rise to the top and enjoy part of this and make the wheels of the world work better. We will be great again.

DER SPIEGEL: Brave old world.

Dorling: The only problem is if the EU puts a wall around us in the event of doing that. Then trying to be the offshore island, which has no connection to the continent, is probably impossible.

DER SPIEGEL: Professor Dorling, we thank you for this interview.   

Post a comment or leave a trackback: Trackback URL.


  • Clyde Duncan  On 06/03/2019 at 12:45 am

    Britain Can’t Be Reborn While We’re Still Lost in Fantasies About The Past

    David Olusoga | The Guardian UK

    It’s not unpatriotic to point out our flaws alongside marking great achievements such as D-day without succumbing to fake glory nostalgia

    England in 2019. A wannabe Thatcher dethroned, a wannabe Churchill readying in the wings. Welcome to the age of tribute act politics. The policies that Boris Johnson and his rivals will soon unveil will be just as retro; cover version rip-offs, warmed-up Thatcherism, right-wing comfort food to appeal to the most extreme of their fellow MPs, “the dregs of their dull race”, as Shelley might have called them.

    But Johnson’s Churchill-lite shtick and Theresa May’s even less convincing Iron Lady routine are only even vaguely viable because they tap into a fantasy version of British history that has contaminated visions of our conceivable future.

    John Lydon got it wrong in 1977, when the Sex Pistols warned: “There is no future in England’s dreaming.” He was out by 40 years. England’s dream-times show no sign of coming to an end and Scotland, Wales and Northern Ireland are being dragged under with us.

    The Brexiters ask us to “believe in Britain” but not the real Britain, with its flaws and contradictions and a history full of inglorious chapters as well as achievement. The Britain we must believe in is an unreal land of distorted memories and colonial amnesia.

    The Britain that was simultaneously the biggest empire on Earth and the tiny underdog that “stood alone” in 1940, going on to defeat the Nazis with only bit-part assistance from the US and USSR.

    This week’s D-day commemorations will, I fear, help reinforce the idea that it was we “wot won it”, further marginalising the history of the Russians on the Eastern Front, who faced the bulk of Hitler’s forces; that fantasy that Britain built an empire yet showed nothing but paternal care to the people whose lands it invaded and bodies it harvested.

    And by dint of that history, they suggest, we are a demonstrably exceptional people, not subject to the political and economic realities that limit the options of other, more ordinary, nations.

    What’s particularly unusual about all this is that it appeals to millions who are too young to have witnessed the golden age whose passing they so lament. Most of those fantasising about “empire 2.0” or calling upon us to recover our lost “buccaneering spirit” were children during the Second World War and saw only the tail-end of empire.

    They might talk misty-eyed about Britain’s lost power, and the special relationships we once had with nations that happily kicked us out, but for them the last days of the Raj are not a distant memory but a local curry house.

    If you want someone to call you a traitor or accuse you of hating Britain, try suggesting that Britain is a normal nation or that our history is remarkable but not exceptional. If you’re feeling really thick-skinned, you could also mention slavery or the violence of empire. You could point out that other nations, the Dutch for example, have managed to come to terms with the fact that their golden age kind of petered out.

    The Netherlands is far from perfect, but its people are not dreaming of recovering the “buccaneering spirit” they too once possessed. This would suggest that it is possible to have a heyday and then move on, grow up and get on with your life.

    The period from Trafalgar to 1914, during which the British exerted naval and economic dominance over the world, was a consequence of what Enoch Powell, the spiritual father of Ukip, recognised as a “brief conjunction of cheap and invincible sea power with industrial potential”.

    Dominance is not our manifest destiny, nor our natural place in the world. Yet to even suggest this in the England of 2019 is to provoke fury.

    The fog of historical amnesia also hangs heavily over postwar history. Beyond austerity (version 1.0), the NHS, Suez and “you’ve never had it so good”, not much else seems to come to mind. And over the past three years it has looked, at times, that we’re at risk of flunking maths as well as getting a D for history.

    Thus the “people’s vote” is routinely described as a demand for a “second referendum”. This would not wash in a country in touch with its history. The referendum David Cameron dragged us into in 2016 was a SECOND REFERENDUM. The first was the referendum of 1975.

    That, too, was an in/out referendum and not, as is often misremembered, a vote to join the EEC – that had happened in 1973.

    The question in 1975, as it was in 2016, was to leave or remain.

    The politicians who now fume that a second referendum would betray “the will of the people” have spent the past 40 years campaigning for a referendum to ignore the “will” the people expressed in 1975, when Remain got 17.3 million votes.

    The England of 2019 is a nation trapped in a quantum “Brexit-verse” in which one plus one doesn’t equal two and a third referendum is a “second vote”.

    If, on 31 October 2019, the fanatics and the Faragists win and we crash out of the EU, that moment, when the borders close, and the markets open, and the truth sinks in, it will NOT be Britain’s “Independence Day”.

    A hard Brexit would be so damaging to the true interests of the UK that what might follow – if we are lucky – IS A GREAT UNMASKING, not just of the political fantasists and chancers who peddled the great Brexit swindle, but of the historical delusion that empowered them.

    The most extreme among the Brexiters are convinced they can ride the chaos and deploy the “shock doctrine” to remake the nation in their ideological image.

    But awoken from our dream-times by the smelling salts of economic reality, Britain might go the other way and begin the process that would see us start to decolonise our history and our self-image.

    Through such a process, Britain would, in effect, become THE LAST COUNTRY TO LEAVE THE BRITISH EMPIRE.

    No matter what happens at Halloween, the dangers of England’s dreaming are surely now clear and manifest.

  • Clyde Duncan  On 06/03/2019 at 1:21 am

    DER SPIEGEL: You argue in your book that Britain had to join the EU in the early 1970s because it had lost its colonies and was in economic decline as a result.

    Dorling: Yeah, things were going badly wrong. We were tanking economically. We were crashing down because, every year, India was buying less woven cotton from Manchester mills because as a free nation it didn’t need to anymore. And the assumption of joining was that, by joining the new market of the European community we would do well.

    DER SPIEGEL: Which you did.

    Dorling: But for many people it felt like a national humiliation.

    This reminds me – the UK got into the European Market for one reason; then began to feel like we in the colonies felt; and they didn’t like it.

    Now, they are suffering from the delusion that they could reassert themselves as a colonial master – We’re British.

    They even got a Military Base planned for Guyana.

  • kamtanblog  On 06/03/2019 at 3:31 am

    Excellent expose of Great Britain as it
    really was/is…if you allow donkies to vote they elect jackasses.
    Thanks for sharing !

    Boris Johnston almost bankrupted the
    City of London when he was Lord Mayor
    If he is elected as Conservative leader and
    becomes next PM of UK
    With Donald and Boris aka Jesus and God in power in power we may see the demise of the USD asthe worlds reserve currency !

    Just hope it never happens !
    Two maverick lunatics leading the western
    economies ?
    God save the West from Armageddon


  • Trevor  On 06/03/2019 at 10:26 am

    Theresa May cut thousands of people from welfare and disability benefits, but intends to spend billions of dollars maintaining military bases in either Montserrat or Guyana near the Venezuela border.

    • kamtanblog  On 06/03/2019 at 7:37 pm

      TM aka by Americans as broom rider
      (Wicked witch) is no more !
      Boris Johnston the maverick
      politicians may replace her.
      Can you imagine a world with
      Jesus and God as it’s leaders.
      Boris and Donald !🤮
      Armageddon a possibility ?
      Rich gets richer poor gets poorer
      seems inevitable with these two jackasses
      elected by donkies in power.
      If there is a god and he/she/it is listening
      “do something” !

  • Clyde Duncan  On 06/03/2019 at 12:59 pm

    Kamtan: I had a chuckle after reading about your racist Prime Minister and the fact she was beginning to serve a useful purpose – she got nothing done ……

    ” …. she was beginning to serve a useful purpose toward the end in that she could get nothing at all done, ….. so at least she was blocking her party from causing the social harm they normally do.”

  • Rosaliene Bacchus  On 06/03/2019 at 2:22 pm

    An interesting interview. Thanks for sharing, Cyril.

    • kamtanblog  On 06/03/2019 at 7:58 pm

      TM is the daughter of a parson..barren
      (without child) brought up in a belief system
      that leaves much to be desired….religion
      ! She is now history but in her short tenure
      the damage she has caused may be felt
      for decades by the “working classes” of UK.
      Her replacement may be Boris Johnson
      the maverick politician who almost bankrupted the city of London.
      With Donald and Boris (Jesus and god)
      as leaders of the free world Armageddon a possibility…hope it never happens !
      Donald has already endorsed Boris
      so is most likely.
      If there is a god and he/she/it is listening
      please do something..anything !


  • Clyde Duncan  On 06/03/2019 at 8:51 pm

    Eddie in the UK wrote:

    Seems to me pie in the sky thinking on behalf of the British polity, stuck in a backward and surrealist mentality.

  • wally n  On 06/04/2019 at 7:35 pm

    Confucius say?……. Always looking back, you can miss out on your future. Know it, fix it, move on!

  • Clyde Duncan  On 06/04/2019 at 11:45 pm

    • Ecowerrie  On 06/05/2019 at 4:58 pm

      Theresa m one hugley woman that need to clear off with her man look . She can’t run the frigging country so good that she big deal she barron you backward arse. What has that got to do with running country when people can’t feed their children. Children in UK are starving because of this freak she man

      • kamtanblog  On 06/05/2019 at 7:36 pm

        Really !
        TM is now History !
        Her legacy Boris !
        She did not “leave” she was “pushed”
        some say “fcuk up” big time !
        Can you imagine the west led by two jackasses … Armageddon?
        Starve the masses and enrich the jackasses more likely outcome !


  • Trevor  On 06/05/2019 at 8:40 pm

    Theresa May claims that she is a woman’s rights activist, but cuts welfare for single mothers there, most of whom are of non-white and lower income social classes.

    How many of these Eurocrats are going to party it up in Guyana via a military base?

    The UK claims that it has no money to help the poor there, but they have money to build a military base to foment war in the Caribbean.

    • kamtanblog  On 06/05/2019 at 10:46 pm

      Most Politicians would lie, cheat, steal
      in order to win votes…with
      MSM ( main stream media) in support
      of their hidden agendas. Social media
      has now become a major source of
      information. Observe how the political jackasses will try to regulate/legislate
      against social media…their impossible
      dream/objective. Social media is now the major source of public information.
      MSM is now history…of less importance.
      Dem ded !


    • kamtanblog  On 06/05/2019 at 11:05 pm

      May add …with USA support.
      Nothing has changed post WW2 !

      Diid USA not intervene in Guyana’s politics
      after Cheddi was democratically elected as PM
      of BG.? History repeats itself over and over again. We can but learn from the mistakes
      in history to imagine what the future will be.

      UK/USA are guilty of collaborating post WW2
      …the spoils of war divided by its victors after
      defeat of Hitler and his nazis. USA UK France and Russia. Go do the research !


      • Ecowerrie  On 06/06/2019 at 3:44 am

        Terry may is a trans man with willy. Can’t run a piss up in a pub . She got children starving and people living in poverty . She is a frigging disgrace. I never see a hugley woman like Terry may. Her husband sleep with the big foot woman

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Google photo

You are commenting using your Google account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s

%d bloggers like this: