In This Review

A Short History of Brexit
A Short History of Brexit
By Kevin O’Rourke
320 pp, Pelican Books, 2019

For three years now, many observers have tracked the tortured process of Brexit blow by blow, breathlessly waiting for the next headline. As an economic historian and an Irishman, O’Rourke views these events from a dispassionate distance. How, he asks, will Brexit be taught to future generations of university students? He recounts the history of British involvement with Europe over the last 60 years with unique concision and clarity. He searches for the motivations behind the Brexit vote, parsing arguments that it was the inevitable result of structural economic factors, that it stemmed from a misplaced backlash against rising inequality, or that it was just a fluke brought about by political miscalculation and opportunism. Ever the professor, O’Rourke hints that all these views contain some truth. Yet as the facts pile up, it becomes clear that even hard-line Brexiteers recognize that it makes little economic or political sense to eliminate policy coordination with Europe. The heart of the Brexit movement lies not in an economic critique but in a sense of British cultural and historical exceptionalism.