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  • Published: 28 January 2021
  • ISBN: 9780141995038
  • Imprint: Penguin eBooks
  • Format: EBook
  • Pages: 224

This Sovereign Isle

Britain In and Out of Europe




One of Brexit's leading intellectual advocates examines the referendum vote in the context of history

Geography comes before history. Islands cannot have the same history as continental plains. The United Kingdom is a European country, but not the same kind of European country as Germany, Poland or Hungary. For most of the 150 centuries during which Britain has been inhabited it has been on the edge, culturally and literally, of mainland Europe.

In this succinct book, Tombs shows that the decision to leave the EU is historically explicable - though not made historically inevitable - by Britain's very different historical experience, especially in the twentieth century, and because of our more extensive and deeper ties outside Europe. He challenges the orthodox view that Brexit was due solely to British or English exceptionalism: in choosing to leave the EU, the British, he argues, were in many ways voting as typical Europeans.

  • Published: 28 January 2021
  • ISBN: 9780141995038
  • Imprint: Penguin eBooks
  • Format: EBook
  • Pages: 224

About the author

Robert Tombs

Robert Tombs was born in England and studied at Cambridge, and did research for his PhD on modern French history in France, where he was attached to the Université de Paris IV (Sorbonne). Robert is Reader in French History at Cambridge and a Fellow of St John's College.

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Praise for This Sovereign Isle

To Remainers interested in reading a civilised & learned defence of Brexit, I highly recommend it

Tom Holland

confident ... surprising and original ... and humble ... Tombs's opening chapter, putting Britain's relationship with Europe into a wider historical context, offers more insights than entire shelves of rival Brexit books. "Geography comes before history," he begins. "Islands cannot have the same history as continental plains. The United Kingdom is a European country, but not the same kind of European country as Germany, Poland or Hungary." ... Like all good historians, Tombs can be entertainingly bitchy [yet] all the time, with elegant wit, he punctures myth after myth

Dominic Sandbrook, Sunday Times

The time has finally come for the whole issue [of Brexit] to pass from the hands of journalists into those of historians. Robert Tombs, emeritus professor of French history at Cambridge, has started the process of objective historical analysis with a profoundly thoughtful explanation of how Brexit happened, and why ... Tombs has a witty turn of phrase and agreeably ironic style that means that he never descends into polemic ... If journalism is the first draft of history, then This Sovereign Isle is its penultimate draft, and the best we will have for many years.

Andrew Roberts, Daily Telegraph

Tombs is a historian of rare elegance and puckish wit [and] This Sovereign Isle is a light and spritzig essay

Ferdinand Mount, Financial Times

A short, punchy, eloquent statement from such a distinguished historian

Fintan O'Toole, The Guardian

bracing stuff, and very convincing

James Hawes, Spectator

intelligent and insightful. Readers are sure to find This Sovereign Isle a page-turner

Entertainment Focus

[a] crisp account of the divorce ... remarkable as a chronicle of national disillusionment... the work of a Leaver, but not a Little Englander.. [Tombs] has made a strong and rational case for the Leave vote and may actually persuade some readers that Brexit was not an act of conspiratorial folly

Roger Boyes, The Times

Really interesting, regardless of what side you voted on. Even if you voted remain it's well worth reading

Nihal Arthanayake, BBC Radio 5

a heroic book... a cracking read

Mark Dolan, TalkRADIO

admirably independent-minded and well argued ... should indeed be made compulsory reading for all Brexiteers

Richard Evans, New Statesman

Tombs' account of the context is valuable to us economists for at least two reasons. First, he reminds us that the debate was not only - or even primarily - about economics, despite his own initial nervousness on that score. Second, he does not subscribe to the UK's miserabilist, declinist, establishment outlook ... It is a refreshing stance. I voted to remain

Kevin Gardiner, Society of Professional Economists

Cambridge professor Tombs offers a fine first draft of history in this objective explanation of how and why Brexit happened. Tombs takes a witty, engagingly ironic approach to the false claims of Project Fear.

Summer reading, The Telegraph

A rare intellectual proponent of Brexit, Robert Tombs infuriates pro-Europeans-even more so because of his undeniable calibre as a historian ... This Sovereign Isle argued that the Leave vote was inevitable as well as rational: the UK never fitted the European project. He understands this as a reaction to the traumas of the continent's story - traumas that Britain's distinctive journey has sometimes ducked ... His theme - national identity in a fracturing world - has contemporary significance far beyond these shores.

The world's top 50 thinkers, 2021, Prospect

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