In this nostalgic la-la-land, the British economy, wrested from Brussels’ bureaucratic tentacles, will flourish like never before. It will be a place where EU technocrats will allow themselves to be pushed around by the very country that vandalized their union. Meanwhile, the Byzantine complexities of creating new free trade deals, often the work of a decade or more will evaporate before our national will. And in lieu of lost European business, we will have “Empire 2.0”—a trading masterplan which, if earlier government pronouncements are any guide, will hinge on pushing jam and biscuits on our former colonies.

It’s impossible to know the extent to which May believes her own myth-making. A Remainer during last summer’s referendum, we can only wonder whether her conversion to the Brexit cause is inspired by cynical politicking or a genuine desire to uphold its result. But she surely understands the value of patriotism as political currency. At a time of resurgent nationalism in America and across Europe, the simple slogans employed by populists like Donald Trump, whose “Make America Great Again” slogan was foreshadowed by the Brexiteer mantra, “Taking our country back” have demonstrated how disillusionment about globalization can be exploited through appeals to love thy country. By riding the patriotic wave, with a trenchant right-wing press behind her, she has quickly positioned herself as a champion of the people.

In such an atmosphere, in which opposing Brexit seems almost anti-British, sensible calls for a second referendum on the terms of our exit are viewed as mildly treasonous. Anxious Remainers, or “Remoaners” in the Brexiteers’ parlance, are dismissed off-hand, their worries denounced as “talking the country down.” For the government, of course, it’s win-win. If the worst Brexit prophecies come to bear, they can all be blamed on the people who failed to get on board with the national mission. As the former British prime minister Tony Blair said recently: “How hideously, in this debate, is the mantle of patriotism abused.”

And so it seems jingoism has become our asylum—a mad refuge from Brexit’s cold truths.

Through it all, I keep remembering a conversation I once had with a friend of my mum’s about the Falklands War. He recalled how, in April of 1982, as Margaret Thatcher dispatched 100 ships across the Atlantic, the Britain he thought he knew became unrecognizable. As if a switch had been flipped in the soul of the nation, ordinarily kind-spirited people unfurled flags, started talking about how much they hated the “Argies,” and cheered the news of Argentinian casualties.

It’s the kind of patriotic mob-think that sounds particularly alien to people from my generation who—born in the 1980s and 1990s—grew-up in an increasingly cooperative Europe. Profoundly conscious of our own failings, progressive Britain’s capacity for introspection—the tacit admission that Morris-dancing looks silly and that our food is a bit crap—stimulated our embrace of the wider world.

But the reactionary side of these islands was always there, sipping tea, grumbling about foreigners, hankering after the good old days—a resentful hinterland that has never quite accepted our lost pre-eminence. That’s why Brexiteers no longer care that they are cheering on a fantasy, by Jingo, so long as it’s a fantasy wrapped in the Union flag.

Follow Henry on Twitter at @henrywismayer. Learn how to write for Quartz Ideas. We welcome your comments at


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