The Big Ben bell tower on the Houses of Parliament, September 3, 2016.
Luke MacGregor / Reuters

Breaking up is hard to do. And it is even worse when the partners do not know what they want. The United Kingdom cannot agree on whether it wishes to retain access to the EU single market if possible, as Chancellor of the Exchequer Philip Hammond suggests, or sail off into some global nirvana of separate trade deals with the rest of the world, as the country’s international trade minister, Liam Fox, wishes. Likewise, Europe is seemingly confused about whether it wants to punish the United Kingdom for leaving or stay friends. Small wonder there is now talk that Brexit may not be completed before the end of 2019.

And it is even harder to separate if one gets the language wrong. As the United Kingdom prepares to “divorce” the EU, many believe that the country will be “adrift” and made “irrelevant,” as so many historians predicted in a letter

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  • BRENDAN SIMMS is the author of Britain’s Europe. A Thousand Years of Conflict and Cooperation, Allen Lane, London, 2016
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