For years the issue of Europe has been a faulty boiler in Britain's house, the gas leaking out slowly, waiting for someone stupid enough to light a match.

Ever since Britain joined the Common Market there has been vocal opposition to Europe. Though, in fairness, there's been vocal opposition to Europe since the Romans turned up in 43 AD.

Amid the dank misery of 1970s Britain, with its unfilled bomb craters and appalling dress sense, Europe was a sparkling glitterball of hope and prosperity, a beacon through the beige fog. Bananas were still bendy, sure, but you couldn't afford to buy them anyway.

So in search of fuller pockets, the country voted overwhelmingly in a 1975 referendum to join the European Common Market, a trading bloc for European countries founded 18 years before, which offered a lucrative future to a bankrupt Britain.

As the Common Market expanded, so did its ambitions, to the chagrin of eurosceptics, already a vocal force in British politics. The bitter division over Europe among Conservatives snapped the party from its Oedipal dream during the Thatcher years, and they brought down their Iron Mother, who believed in the Common Market and its liberalising potential.

Brussels' power expanded with the Maastricht Treaty in 1992, which created the European Union (EU) as we know it today, birthing the euro currency, tearing down borders, and opening up new trade opportunities.

But there was growing unrest in Britain at the increasing influence of Brussels and what its critics said was a loss of national sovereignty to an undemocratic and unaccountable bureaucracy. The eurosceptics' case against Europe was bolstered by the infamous and humiliating Black Wednesday, when sterling crashed out of the Exchange Rate Mechanism.

And then things got unimaginably worse: Ukip was formed. Over the following two decades of EU expansion into central and eastern Europe, mass immigration to Britain, Nigel Farage, tabloid mythology about bendy bananas and bans on busty barmaids and speed limits for children's roundabouts, the Lisbon Treaty, the euro, and the financial crisis – euroscepticism grew ever more powerful.

Eventually, a hubristic Old Etonian PR man, who presumably won some sort of cereal packet competition to be prime minister, thought he could slay the Brexit dragon once and for all to become the heroic Saint Dave, patron saint of European supranationalism.

But the dragon ate him and set fire to everything else. And we're still burning.

This is a brief and incomplete history of how British politics became a house fire.

January 2013

Toby Melville
Britain's Prime Minister David Cameron pauses as he speaks about the EU referendum outside 10 Downing Street in London on 21 June 2016 Toby Melville/ Reuters

It was the obvious answer to a difficult question, assuming the question was "how in one move can I slowly and painfully murder my political career while unleashing and empowering the wing of my party I just spent years of hard work to keep contained?".

David Cameron, the Conservative prime minister, thought he could calm the rising anger on his backbenches about the crisis-hit EU and his own weakening leadership by putting Brexit to the British people in a referendum. It's what they always wanted.

It'll be easy, he thought. I'll use the referendum to play Billy Big Brexit down in Brussels, win a load of concessions on issues like immigration by renegotiating the terms of our membership, return triumphantly to London where approximately 100% of the voting public would back Remain in the referendum, making political eunuchs of the rabid anti-EU right in the Conservative party and answering decisively the European question for at least a generation if not more. Job done.

And with that, Cameron gave his infamous Bloomberg speech committing to a decisive in/out referendum on Britain's relationship with the EU. "Over the coming weeks, months and years, I will not rest until this debate is won," Cameron said confidently, without the pathos of hindsight.

May 2014

Nigel Farage
Nigel Farage holds a British Union Jack flag as he waits for the start of a debate at the European Parliament in Strasbourg, France Vincent Kessler/ Reuters

If there was any sign of things to come, it was the sudden surge of Britain's foremost anti-Europe political party.

High on referendum hysteria, drunk on real ale, and stinking of fags, Ukip's menagerie of candidates did their leader a solid by delivering the party a dramatic victory in the European Parliament elections. Nigel Farage was man of the hour, and it was 1950s o'clock.

This was Ukip's breakout election. Next stop Downing Street for the only party in town calling for taxi drivers to wear uniforms and a return to the good old days of rationing and Blitz Spirit and Carry On The Right Bloody Good British Empire And All That Malarky Sunshine.

September 2014

Scottish independence Yes voter
The 'Yes' campaign narrowly lost the referrendum for Scottish independence, which was held last year. Reuters

Yet another rebellion north of Hadrian's Wall had to be put down, though a lot less brutally than the various Jacobite risings were handled.

The Scottish independence referendum looked close for a long time. The three-century old union was on the brink. Who would get the North Sea oil? Could Scotland use the pound? Would the price of Scotch eggs spiral? Where now for the Krankies? Hogmanay or Hogmayay? So many questions.

David Cameron said the only way Scotland could guarantee its membership of the European Union was to remain within the UK, which wasn't strictly true, as later events would show. The Scots rejected independence, preserving the union.

April 2015

Ed Miliband
Labour leader Ed Miliband giving it his best "oh no you didn't" face at Ukip leader Nigel Farage during the BBC challengers debate. BBC screengrab

Labour leader and Rubik's Cube brainzilla Ed Miliband was on course to narrowly win the election, though polls suggested he'd only have the largest party in a hung parliament. Voters seemed willing to forgive his crap bacon sandwich eating skills and the fact he wasn't even offering them a referendum on Europe.

Cameron, expecting to lose, slung in his manifesto a pledge to hold an EU referendum, thinking that it might help limit some of the damage to the Conservative benches, and he probably wouldn't have to deliver it anyway.

May 2015

Then the actual election happened and it turned out that awkwardly eating bacon sandwiches is a dealbreaker for the electorate, which rejected Miliband's nerd brigade and gave Cameron a Tory majority, despite the years of austerity and that he allegedly tried to sire a piglet at Oxford University.

Labour was almost wiped out in Scotland by the Scottish Nationalist Party (SNP), who were propelled to being the third largest party in parliament, despite losing the independence referendum only a few months before.

The Tories didn't waste any time and brought an EU Referendum Bill, which had received Royal Assent by the end of the year. The referendum was on.

September 2015

Jeremy Corbyn TUC conference September 2015 gesture
Jeremy Corbyn Peter Nicholls/Reuters

Having got rid of Ed Miliband after he lost a general election that was his to win, Labour members did the only rational thing: elect Jeremy Corbyn, a politician to the left of Chairman Mao. If there was anyone who could win an election in a country that thought Miliband was too left-wing, it was a vegetarian socialist with a regular column in the Morning Star.

The hard-left were in control of Labour once again, and they were soon at war with the party's rebellious moderates. The British parliament's official opposition was in chaos thanks to Blair's toxic legacy, Miliband changing the way Labour selects its leaders so the mass of members decides, and a historic split within the party between its left and right.

June 2016

By June, it had been a long, long referendum campaign of lies, fearmongering, and the alarming ubiquity of Nigel Farage.

Vote Leave and you risked unleashing the Demons of Hell into Britain. You'd lose your job, your house, your family. You'd get bubonic plague. Twice. Terrorists would bomb you in the face. The whole world would explode, catapulting you towards the sun at 500,000 miles per hour.

Vote Remain and Brussels would be given the all clear to establish a sort of tyrannical hybrid of the Third Reich and Soviet Union. Everyone in Britain would be transported out to a gulag in Strasbourg for re-education, and approximately 200 million Latvians would move into your house. Jean-Claude Juncker would insult your nan's cooking.

Worst of all, the EU might try to regulate bananas again.

Vote Leave bus
Boris Johnson and Theresa Villiers walk beside the controversial Leave campaign battle bus Getty

Fortunately for the Remain campaign, the trusty old British electorate likes a steady ship, so obviously they'd vote to stay in the EU because they wouldn't want to rock the boat, would they?


The Brexiteers won the day after Boris Johnson drove around on a bus with a massive lie on it as he honked on about Ancient Greece or something. It was either the end of the universe or the dawn of time, depending on how you voted.

But there is one thing it definitely was: the end of David Cameron's career. Having backed the Remain campaign, he had to go.

It was a bit like walking into a glassware shop and showing off by juggling some expensive vases before accidentally dropping them and running off before you have to pay.

September 2016

Theresa May
Theresa May arrives for a cabinet meeting at number 10 Downing Street, in central London Neil Hall/ Reuters

In what can only be described as a massacre, Theresa May emerged from the pile of her rivals' bodies - Johnson, Gove, Crabb, and Leadsom - as the One True Queen of the Conservative Party, and summarily executed the careers of those who didn't immediately fall in line. Including George 'Gideon' Osborne, Cameron's chancellor whose only two facial expressions are "18th century aristocrat sneer" and "on a severe MDMA comedown".

"Brexit means Brexit," she declared with a bluffer's confidence, looking deceptively in control of her party, the ultimate cat herder. She categorically ruled out a snap election, but she had her fingers crossed behind her back, which is the kind of opacity and political cunning voters really, really appreciate.

After a challenge to his own leadership, Jeremy Corbyn tightened his grip on the wheel of the Labour party, steering left into oncoming traffic.

March 2017

Elephants never forget and neither do the Scots. Told by Cameron that the only guarantee they had of staying in the EU was to reject independence, the nation then rejected Brexit, only to be told, sorry, but everyone else voted for Brexit. It's game over. Thanks for playing.

The Scottish parliament was having absolutely none of it. Brexit reinvigorated the independence movement, and the Scots voted for a second independence referendum. The UK isn't just breaking away from Europe. It's breaking away from itself again.

April 2017

Theresa May did that thing politicians do which is U-turn so hard that she had to wear a neckbrace. Remember when she said there wouldn't be a snap election? And then all those other times she said there absolutely would not be a snap election?

Well, surprise! Because here's the snap election you didn't want and she said definitely wouldn't happen.

Theresa May
British Prime Minister Theresa May makes a statement to the nation in Downing Street, London Dan Kitwood/Getty Images

May wants to cement the hardest of hard Brexits by repeating the words "strong and stable leadership" at the electorate until they are so hypnotised by boredom that they deliver her a massive majority in the Commons.

Helpfully, the EU suggested that a united Ireland could join the EU, which will almost certainly ease tensions in Northern Ireland. It's not like there was a long and bloody sectarian war ended by a recent and all-too-fragile peace or anything. They'll just take it on the chin because you know the Irish - a great bunch of lads.

May 2017

The election now in full swing, Theresa May showed just how strong and stable a leader she is by melting like an ice cube in a sauna under the pressure of an actual campaign.

An abortive Tory manifesto launch thanks to the so-called "dementia tax" and May running scared from one-on-one debates with Labour leader Jeremy Corbyn seriously dented the party and her poll ratings.

UK general election funny photos
13 May 2017: Labour leader Jeremy Corbyn is startled by Cody the dachshund during a campaign event outside the James Paget Hospital in Great Yarmouth Dan Kitwood/Getty Images

Labour's ratings improved significantly as Corbyn's campaign looked surprisingly solid and landed effective attacks on "weak and wobbly" May, though he and his team continue to be plagued by their pasts, including support for the IRA.

But, despite May's collapse and Corbyn's surge, she and her party still lead in an average of polls, which historically under-represent Conservative voters, suggesting she could still be on course for a robust majority in the Commons.

June 2017

Rose Monday
A carnival float depicting British Prime Minister Theresa May in Duesseldorf Patrik Stollarz/AFP

And then came the actual election... Forget about that Tory dictatorship. It's a hung parliament. A really well hung parliament. And, after an exhausting election session, Britain can't walk properly. Corbyn surged, May crumbled. The SNP was punished in Scotland. Just two weeks to go before Brexit negotiations formally start and no obvious government or prime minister in sight. Will Brexit still happen? What even is Brexit? Who am I? Who are you?

Only one man saw this coming: the exit poll guru. ALL HAIL PROFESSOR JOHN CURTICE! LONG LIVE THE KING!

It's absolute chaos and every man for himself. This is a full-blown political crisis, baby.