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Simon Critchley on England's two departures from Europe


For New York Review of Books, Simon Critchley writes about England’s two exits over the last week: from both the European Union and from the European Football Championship. While I’m probably the last person in the world to read Critchley on football, his take on England losing to Iceland, a country with a population of 330,000, is worth the read. Check out Critchley in partial below, or in full via New York Review of Books.

England has now left Europe twice in four days, with the second departure allowing this writer some small sentiment of retributive justice for the stupidity of the first. After the unmitigated and unfolding disaster of Brexit, the English national football team was defeated 2-1 by Iceland yesterday in the European Football Championship. Iceland! That’s right. With a population of around 330,000, with a fair scattering of part-time players and a coach who also works as a dentist and a goalkeeper who is also a filmmaker, Iceland defeated England, the country who first formulated the game of association football in the nineteenth century and has the richest league in the world and most of the game’s best-paid players.

On both occasions, leaders resigned without taking questions from the press. A puffy-looking David Cameron announced, using quaint shipping metaphors, that he would be leaving office just as soon as anyone foolhardy enough could be found to take his job. And the hapless England coach, Roy Hodgson, read out a prepared statement immediately after the Iceland game (when was it prepared, one asks?) stating that he was quitting as coach. Shipping metaphors are appropriate in this instance, as the last confrontations between England and Iceland were the so-called “Cod Wars” that stretched from the 1950s to the 1970s, which Iceland also handily won.

What connection is there between these two European departures? At a superficial, factual level, absolutely none at all. But, probing more deeply, there is a felt link. The referendum for Brexit was not about national sovereignty against the allegedly faceless bureaucracy of Brussels and the EU, nor was it some triumph for democracy where the people take their country back, as Donald Trump declared. No, this was a referendum on immigration. Pure and simple. The campaign was ugly and watered with lies and racist scaremongering from the “leave” camp. Promises were made to end immigration and defend the values of nation, from the cynical Tory Boris Johnson and the truly awful Nigel Farage, leader of UKIP. The majority of the people of England (but not of Scotland or Northern Ireland) voted against immigration because, to put it brutally, they simply don’t like foreigners and very many of them seem to be simply racist.