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We should never have let the Leavers have those Spitfires.

June 26, 2016


I sometimes feel that those w ho invoke history the most are the least inclined to read it.  Britain, that strange living but dead thing, is now as much a historical inquiry as Carthage or the Byzantine Empire.

I suppose all of us who urged Britain to remain in the EU are now wondering what else we could have said or done – what it was that we didn’t say often enough, or loud enough, or at all.

But we shouldn’t have let the Leavers have those Spitfires.  When they started showing Spitfires – we laughed it off as a bit of ludicrous and irrelevant patriotic appropriation – instead of what it really was – a betrayal of history.  The Leavers took those Spitfires as a way of re-writing World War Two as a story of Britain defending itself from an invasive continental power.

It was not.

Britain’s involvement in World War Two was not a war of self-defense against a European invader.  It was the story of Britain’s refusal to abandon Europe – the supreme example of Britain’s commitment to Europe.  The ancestors of Farage were not the Spitfire pilots but the appeasers and the defeatists – the people who wanted to abandon Europe to its fate.  Hitler had no particular wish to invade Britain.  Kent formed no part of his expansive schemes of lebensraum.  Oh, for sure the plans for invasion were there – and an invasion may well have taken place – but Hitler’s preferred and expected option was for Britain to sue for a dishonourable peace.  With Britain’s land forces swept off mainland Europe and the Luftwaffe poised to destroy British air power – the logical, the sane response of any British government (mused Hitler) would be to abandon the war against a victorious Germany, leaving Britain (and her massive empire) intact.  Give up on Europe and we Nazis will leave you alone.  “Get out of Europe” said Hitler.  “Any you’ll do fine.”

Nigel Farage (and many other Leavers) would surely have taken that deal.

Spitfires are therefore the supreme symbol of Britain’s refusal to abandon Europe, the supreme symbol of on nation’s sacrificial concern for the future of the continent, a determination not to allow Europe to succumb forever to genocidal darkness.

You know how you often think of the perfect thing to say far too late?

We Remainers should never have allowed the Leavers to pervert the legacy of the Spitfire. The failure to challenge Farage on this obscene inversion of the spirit of “The Few” (many of whom were Polish – let’s say that loud and often) adds yet another element to the story of the  resistible chaos of Britain as a failed state.


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