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Summary

A thoughtful, articulate and important book about the rise of English nationalism and the impending breakup of the United Kingdom from one of the finest BBC journalists of the last 20 years.

How Britain Ends is a book about history, but also about the strange, complicated identity of Britishness. In the past, it was possible to live with delightful confusion: one could be English, or British, Scottish or Irish and a citizen/subject of the United Kingdom (or Great Britain). For years that state has been what Gavin Esler calls a 'secret federation', but without the explicit federal arrangements that allow Germany or the USA to survive.

Now the archaic state, which doesn't have a written constitution, is coming under terrible strain. The English revolt against Europe is also a revolt against the awkward squads of the Scottish and Irish, and most English conservatives would be happy to get rid of Northern Ireland and Scotland as the price of getting Brexit done. If no productive trade deal with the EU can be agreed, the pressures to declare Scottish independence and to push for a border poll that would unite Ireland will be irresistible.

Can England and Wales find a way of dealing with the state's new place in the world? What constitutional, federal arrangements might prevent the disintegration of the British state, which has survived in its present form for 400 years?

©2021 Gavin Esler (P)2021 Head of Zeus

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Good, but a bit of a rant

I have always respected Gavin Esler as a journalist, and broadly agree with his thesis. He did however cross the rubicon into politics when he stood as a candidate for Change U.K. He does tend to go on a bit in when he has already more than made the point in that it becomes a bit of a rant, which detracts from good work. A more pithy impactful narrative would have carried more weight (for example, why is Louis De Bernieres an example he explores at such length? And why is his view even vaguely important?) As an Englishman who has lived in Scotland, London, northern England and have many friends from all four nations, many of the points he raises do chime with me and what friends and colleagues from all nations have said. The sad thing is that I think it is too late, and even more sad, I’m not sure how much I can care anymore as this seems an irreversible evolution within these nations.

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Clearifying

Interesting book about the possible - inevitable? - future for the UK post Brexit. I'm a Johnny Foreigner and I learned a lot about how our big neighbor is doing. And about the things that separates her four different nations, and what may still unite them. And why English Nationalism and a non-written constitution isn't a good combo in the 21st century. Very well written. Very good narrated. Recommended.

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Required reading for English people

A lucid and compelling account of the political dysfunction of the UK, by a well known Scottish journalist. Recommended.

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A stylish and very informative book

I found this a thoughtful and well researched book. I hope it will be very widely read because it clarifies many confusing issues.
Also, the reader, Robin Laing, has a very pleasing voice.
Gavin Esler has, through his personal experience and ancestry gained many insights into the history and regional factors that have shaped the characteristics of our disparate island nations. I think I have finally understood matters that I have never heard so clearly explained before. It is not a dry academic text but a vibrant book of ideas passionately expressed.
Not just history and analysis but practical suggestions for reform.


A solid five *****

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Essential reading

This book opened my eyes to the true nature of the United Kingdom, especially the fact that we’re a quasi federal state, a good thing. His arguments for the urgency of constitutional reform are irrefutable. Highly recommended.

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Superb analysis

A superb analysis but probably too late to avert the inevitable break up of the UK. The brexit vote has cast competing nationalisms into stark relief and this book charts the path through history to this inevitable outcome with wit and a lightness of touch which kept me coming back to it. While it thoroughly eviscerates the current UK governmental model it also provides well thought out solutions and ideas of how to go forward. Well worth a credit.

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Interesting and thought provoking with pithy points

Excellent summary of how the UK is likely to break up due to the incompetence of Cameron, May and Johnson. It offers a federal option which the writer thinks would be the best solution but which is now unlikely. Full of pithy quotes, interesting historical insights and personal views. Well worth reading.

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Compulsory reading!

This is a fantastic book. Utterly fascinating. Well researched, well written and well read!

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Brilliant book.

Full of ironic humour and searing analysis. Exposes breathtaking political idiocy and incompetence. Quite Outstanding. Gavin for PM!

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Should the U.K. continue?

Brexit and the CV-19 pandemic has had many consequences. One of which is the possible break up of our country. This book looks at why this might happen. It really gets into the past relationship of the 4 nations of the U.K. it offers a more federal way forward which builds in what is already happening and in particular looks at English nationalism which is at the root of much of what is happening today. An important book, one which will be referred to in the future.

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  • Duncan Keegan
  • 05-05-21

Reasonable account of a state passing out of history

This is a decent essay by a reasonable man, offering a reasonable account of the sources behind the UK’s current crisis of identity.

Esler’s Scottish conscience can’t help but force him to be more honest about those sources, their contradictory natures and their workings out on the peoples of these islands than one usually finds in other similar works.

So he avoids the worst of the rose-tinted nostalgia he interrogates very well, yet he can’t help glancing back himself through a certain sepia-tinged gauze, and fails to make explicit certain connections and resonances that might pick out the glints of the harder edges to ‘Britishness’ that has underpinned that conquest state over the past three centuries. The suggestion that Bridget Cleary’s murder was somehow representative of the Irish Catholic community in general of the time and thus justify Protestant opposition to home rule is ludicrous. We hear about his ancestors in 1912 and their supposedly reasonable decision to stick with the UK; not so much about the proto-fascism and ethnic cleansing in the province 1920-22.

Indeed, for all the references to the ‘four nations’, Gavin doesn’t really provide any reason to credit Northern Ireland with a status equivalent to that of the three historic nations on the island of Britain. And one cannot escape the feeling that, like most non-English unionists charmed and mystified by what ‘Britishness’ means, Gavin simply missed that at root it’s a pseudo-nativist cosplay of a kind of Britannic “romanitas” by English elites, indulged in with the same amateurish spirit of ambiguity they bring to so many of the games they play between themselves.

With those legendary gifts for omission and understatement that mark the English aristocratic tradition, it was easy to overlook it as a Jock or a Paddy or a Taffy on the make in London. But it remained true nevertheless. Britain, Albion, the UK, the British Isles: it really doesn’t matter, for it was all only ever England, for England; this was a truth not requiring explicit uttering, but one tacitly approved of and maintained by all the right sort of people, from the better families and with the proper qualifications.

Anyway, still a decent if flawed light essay on current affairs improved greatly by some great narration.