Britain’s story of empire is based on myth. We need to know the truth | Priyamvada Gopal

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If we were taught just how much the UK was shaped by its colonies, the shared history would unite rather than divide us

These days we’ve become wearily accustomed to depictions of Brexit Britain as oppressed by a villainously imperial Europe. Annexed “without permission”, Nigel Farage claimed melodramatically, defending Brexit party MEPs against charges of “disrespecting” the European Parliament. In a particularly far-fetched comparison, Ann Widdecombe MEP has compared Brexit with the resistance of “slaves against their owners” and “colonies against empires”. Prime ministerial frontrunner Boris Johnson too has spoken of Britain’s supposed “colony status” in the EU though, with a familiar double standard, he also believes that it would be good if Britain was still “in charge” of Africa.

These bizarre comparisons can be made and go unchallenged because the stark fact remains that most Britons know very little about the history of the empire itself, still less the way in which its long afterlife profoundly shapes both Britain and the wider world today.

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