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Britain is divided – thank heavens

Boris Johnson and Emmanuel Macron at the G7 summit. Phil Noble/Pool/AFP/Getty Images

Boris Johnson is wrong about Britain, says David Starkey in The Critic. At the G7 summit in June, the PM snapped at President Macron over sausages. “How would you like it if the French courts stopped you moving Toulouse sausages to Paris?” That’s a bad comparison, replied Macron, “because Paris and Toulouse are part of the same country”. Cue outrage from Foreign Secretary Dominic Raab (“who always looks as though he is trying hard not to hit somebody”), Northern Ireland’s First Minister, Edwin Poots (“enjoying his 15 minutes of modest fame”), and Johnson (“the blusterer-in-chief”). Actually, said the PM, “we are all part of one great, indivisible United Kingdom”. 

Of course, Macron was right. We have always been a decidedly disunited kingdom, from the “extreme rupture” of the Norman Conquest to the constant battles between Protestants and Catholics. As Voltaire said upon visiting: “England has 42 religions and only two sauces.” And thank God for that. Unlike continental European countries, we have never had our culture imposed on us. Instead we have muddled along, “letting time and circumstance give rise instead to complex networks of hyphenated identities – national (British and Scots), religious (British and Jewish) and latterly racial (British and black)”. The result might offend the “tidy-minded” at home and abroad, “but it works”.