Why English nationalism will be the UK's undoing

Building on Chris Patten’s assertion that the present prime minister is an English nationalist, Zoe Williams correctly observes that Boris Johnson’s English nationalism is based on a myth that contains such rhetorical references as a gunboats in the Channel, hostility towards migrants, and dislike of foreign competition (English nationalism has a champion in No 10. But it’s a very fragile concept, 15 December). She might agree that the myth is also accompanied by a deification of economic liberalism and deregulation.

All of this directs us towards looking at Scottish nationalism. If recent polls are to be believed, voters north of the border increasingly understand this to consist of a melange of cultural pluralism, European membership, and a progressive agenda shared across boundaries and political parties in the islands of Britain and beyond. Given that the SNP will be an active (and willing) partner to other progressive parties south of the border, the terminus of the English nationalist route – the ultimate achievement of Brexit – will almost inevitably come to be symbolised one day on the stairway of No 10 by a lonely photograph of Boris Johnson captioned: “The last prime minister of the United Kingdom”.
Prof Tom Selwyn
Soas, University of London

• Zoe Williams calls the “unstatesmanlike remark about the German chancellor wanting us to crawl over broken glass” excruciating jingoism “at its least consequential”. I question its inconsequentiality.

To smear the German chancellor by attributing to her unthinkably vindictive and cruel words that have associations with Kristallnacht, the Nazi pogrom against Jews in November 1938, is unforgivable and will not quickly be forgotten. It’s reminiscent of Boris Johnson referring to Obama’s “part-Kenyan ancestry” and his resulting “ancestral dislike of the British empire”. It will haunt Anglo-German relations for years to come, long after the proverbially patient and restrained chancellor has left the political scene.

This kind of verbal goading might be admired and effective in the Eton playground. It is a strange tactic, however, at a delicate moment in UK-EU negotiations, and hardly in Britain’s best interests while Germany has the rotating presidency of the EU council.
Esther Obst-Kennedy
Mering, Germany

• Nesrine Malik believes that the Brexit referendum of 2016 let loose a toxic racist and anti-immigration bile into British life (For liberals, Brexit is a hard lesson in the politics of resentment, 14 December). Although a remain voter, I find this difficult to reconcile with the results of an Ipsos Mori poll in December 2018 showing that 48% of British voters believed immigration to have had a positive impact on the country, higher than anywhere else in the EU.

In addition, Britain is the only major country in Europe without a radical right party in its legislature. In Germany, the AfD is the official opposition; in Sweden, after the 2018 general election, the radical-right Sweden Democrats were strong enough to prevent the formation of a majority government; and in France, Marine Le Pen’s National Rally party won the 2019 European parliament elections.

Incidentally, Britain returned more non-white MEPs to the European parliament in 2019 than any other member state. Nineteen of the 28 returned none at all.
Vernon Bogdanor
Professor of government, King’s College London

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