AS the Doomsday Clock this week edged another stroke towards midnight, time is moving swiftly backwards in England, seeking a point in the 19th century. The prospect of a No Deal retreat from the EU has reduced the Leave offering to exhortations of empire. Unable cogently to respond to projections of economic apocalypse persistent Brexiters are reduced to cries of: “This Is England” and “We’ve always been great when we’ve stood alone”. Even the pretence that Scotland is part of the grand delusion has been dropped. England has become a tabloid tantrum ever-vigilant for signs of treachery and they have elected the usual witch-finders and torch-bearers.

Dan Snow, the English historian, elegantly skewered the re-emerging narrative of Ourselves Alone in a series of tweets earlier this week. Mr Snow, never previously mistaken for a fiery radical, was responding to the new siren slogan of defiant Brexitism that Britain had single-handedly liberated Europe from the Third Reich. Gently, he reminded the Brexiters of the sacrifices made by millions from Britain’s colonies and the heroic efforts of airmen from 16 non-British nationalities during the Battle of Britain. He wrote: “Britain has fought in a lot of coalitions. They are expensive, frustrating & often inefficient but we’re ultimately victorious. Britain has lost only one great power war in the last 250yrs. The American Revolutionary War, when, funnily enough, Britain was fighting alone.”

Mr Snow’s use of the distinction ‘great power war’ is an important one here. For within this period Britain also fought hundreds of smaller wars and military skirmishes which were something less that ‘great’ and had inglorious outcomes. These too were all about maintaining power: the power and influence of the British Empire. Many of them involved the savage suppression of indigenous peoples. The distorted chronicles of British history glibly describe some of the atrocities. These, though, are often sanctified as necessarily brutal to serve the higher purpose of extending British influence and bequeathing the gifts of civilisation and Christianity upon natives who would come to be grateful for them.

The fiction was given further legs: the subsequent looting of the newly-conquered nation’s natural resources increased Britain’s trading power, thus benefitting everyone back in Blighty. For a century or so, England did indeed become the richest and most powerful nation on earth but very few of its people were permitted to share in it. For the wars of empire were fought exclusively for the benefit of its landowners, industrialists and plantation owners. Poor men were successfully pressed into fighting these wars knowing that the standard of living of a soldier in His Majesty’s service comfortably outstripped the squalor of life at home for the vast majority.

And when even ravenous England had had its fill of a nation’s bounty their retreat from these stolen territories was often marked by the callous indifference to human suffering that had characterised its occupation of them. Britain’s betrayal of the Arabs after the 1916 Arab Revolt against the Ottoman Empire in turn led to the Iraq Uprising of 1920 and bombing raids against civilians by the RAF. Instability in that region has continued to this day. The same cold-blooded indifference was evident in Ireland after 1916 and the gerrymandered construction of the artificial province of Northern Ireland. That led to 75 years of sectarian strife before a peace of sorts was achieved and now threatened once more by Brexit’s new Little Englanders.

In 1947, having bled India dry, Britain made another disorderly and catastrophic retreat, entrusting its exit strategy to Earl Louis Mountbatten who even by the scarecrow standards of England’s aristocratic elite was judged to be a clown. The resultant war between Pakistan and India led to the displacement of three million people and the deaths of one million.

To ensure that only the few got to share in the bounty of empire it was vital also to keep a lid on threats of civil unrest at home. In this, the British state exhibited the same remorseless and ruthless efficiency which built its empire. The centenary of the Battle of George Square took place earlier this week. This was when the UK Government ordered the military occupation of Glasgow for a week after police violently attacked thousands of protesters seeking jobs and a 40-hour week, after fighting for what they thought was their country for the previous four years. Last week, too, Derry remembered the Bloody Sunday massacre of 1972 when British soldiers shot 28 unarmed civilians, killing 14 of them.

The army’s tactics had not changed in the 153 years that had elapsed since soldiers charged unarmed protesters at Peterloo in Manchester, killing 15 and injuring hundreds more. In more recent times the brutality of the police in suppressing the Miners' Strike in 1984 and 1985 has yet to be investigated. No other country in the developed world, be they democracy or tyranny, has managed to suppress rebellion so brutally efficiently and so successfully for so long than Britain. When you have ancient privileges and riches to protect you’ll go to extreme lengths to do so.

This week, too, the Scottish Green MSP Ross Greer gloriously trolled the UK media glove-puppets to whom the fictions of Empire have been entrusted. Mr Greer, deploying rather vivid imagery dismissed Sir Winston Churchill, the great champion of the British Empire, as an unreconstructed racist who had the blood of millions on his hands. There is little doubt that Churchill was a disreputable old scoundrel whose few moments of greatness coincided with Britain’s greatest need. This shouldn’t blind us to his flaws and if we are condemning ideas of racial superiority we need to acknowledge that the British Empire was entirely constructed around such attitudes and endured because of them. To focus purely on its greatest defender carries the risk of shifting attention from its fundamental and historic wickedness.

This week we learned that thousands of British soldiers are gathering to maintain order in the face of a disorderly EU exit. They should mind how they go. Unlike those previous times when they were required to brutalise civilians on this occasion their actions will be recorded on thousands of small phone screens.