Britain First: The official history of the United Kingdom according to the Home Office – a critical review

Frank Trentmann

BRITAIN FIRST: The official history of the United Kingdom according to the Home Office – a critical review

Following this summer’s open letter to the Home Office, this article by Frank Trentmann offers an analysis of the official history chapter in the ‘Life in the UK’ handbook that is required reading for migrants applying for citizenship or settlement in the United Kingdom. Comparing the current (third) edition to previous versions, the article documents a pattern of rewriting the national past, especially over issues of race and Britain’s relation to Europe and the rest of the world. It shows distortion and falsification in the account of slavery, empire, Anglo-Irish relations, and Hitler and the Second World War. The essay places the rewriting of Britain’s past in the context of the Home Office’s hostile environment to migrants after 2013 and the increasingly insular view of Britain’s position in the world, with little regard to the reciprocal ties and collaboration with Europe, the United States and other international partners. The article places the official history’s difficulty of acknowledging race, antisemitism and colonial violence in a comparative context. 

Please click here to download Professor Trentmann’s full report as a PDF;

Frank Trentmann is a professor of history at Birkbeck College, University of London. His many publications include Empire of Things: How We Became a World of Consumers, Fifteenth Century to the Twenty-First (London: Allen Lane/Penguin; New York: HarperCollins, 2016) and Free Trade Nation: Consumption, Civil Society and Commerce in Modern Britain (Oxford: Oxford University Press, 2008), which was awarded the Royal Historical Society’s Whitfield Prize.

Professor Trentmann also recently wrote in the Times Literary Supplement about this issue: Britain First: the Official History of the United Kingdom according to the Home Office” by Frank Trentmann, Times Literary Supplement, 4 September 2020, pp. 7-9

Figure 1. Selected editions of the ‘Life in the UK’ Test handbook. The image was provided by the author and should not be reproduced without permission.

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