Brexit might feel like it's been going on a while. But it's been 450,000 years in all, according to new research.
Scientists have shed new light on how ancient Britain separated from Europe, a movement that happened in two stages. The new research shows how exactly Britain left the European continent, before which the two had been stuck together.
And it also proves that the split was caused by a set of chance, unlikely circumstances. If that hadn't happened, Britain would continue to stick onto mainland Europe, jutting out in the same way that Denmark does today.
What experts have said about Brexit
What experts have said about Brexit
1/11 Chancellor of the Exchequer Philip Hammond
The Chancellor claims London can still be a world financial hub despite Brexit “One of Britain’s great strengths is the ability to offer and aggregate all of the services the global financial services industry needs” “This has not changed as a result of the EU referendum and I will do everything I can to ensure the City of London retains its position as the world’s leading international financial centre.”
2/11 Yanis Varoufakis
Greece's former finance minister compared the UK relations with the EU bloc with a well-known song by the Eagles: “You can check out any time you like, as the Hotel California song says, but you can't really leave. The proof is Theresa May has not even dared to trigger Article 50. It's like Harrison Ford going into Indiana Jones' castle and the path behind him fragmenting. You can get in, but getting out is not at all clear”
3/11 Michael O’Leary
Ryanair boss says UK will be ‘screwed’ by EU in Brexit trade deals: “I have no faith in the politicians in London going on about how ‘the world will want to trade with us’. The world will want to screw you – that's what happens in trade talks,” he said. “They have no interest in giving the UK a deal on trade”
4/11 Tim Martin
JD Wetherspoon's chairman has said claims that the UK would see serious economic consequences from a Brexit vote were "lurid" and wrong: “We were told it would be Armageddon from the OECD, from the IMF, David Cameron, the chancellor and President Obama who were predicting locusts in the fields and tidal waves in the North Sea"
5/11 Mark Carney
Governor of Bank of England is 'serene' about Bank of England's Brexit stance: “I am absolutely serene about the … judgments made both by the MPC and the FPC”
6/11 Christine Lagarde
IMF chief urges quick Brexit to reduce economic uncertainty: “We want to see clarity sooner rather than later because we think that a lack of clarity feeds uncertainty, which itself undermines investment appetites and decision making”
7/11 Inga Beale
Lloyd’s chief executive says Brexit is a major issue: "Clearly the UK's referendum on its EU membership is a major issue for us to deal with and we are now focusing our attention on having in place the plans that will ensure Lloyd's continues trading across Europe”
8/11 Colm Kelleher
President of US bank Morgan Stanley says City of London ‘will suffer’ as result of the EU referendum: “I do believe, and I said prior to the referendum, that the City of London will suffer as result of Brexit. The issue is how much”
9/11 Richard Branson
Virgin founder believes we've lost a THIRD of our value because of Brexit and cancelled a deal worth 3,000 jobs: We're not any worse than anybody else, but I suspect we've lost a third of our value which is dreadful for people in the workplace.' He continued: "We were about to do a very big deal, we cancelled that deal, that would have involved 3,000 jobs, and that’s happening all over the country"
10/11 Barack Obama
US President believes Britain was wrong to vote to leave the EU: "It is absolutely true that I believed pre-Brexit vote and continue to believe post-Brexit vote that the world benefited enormously from the United Kingdom's participation in the EU. We are fully supportive of a process that is as little disruptive as possible so that people around the world can continue to benefit from economic growth"
11/11 Kristin Forbes
American economist and an external member of the Monetary Policy Committee of the Bank of England argues that the economy had been “less stormy than many expected” following the shock referendum result: “For now…the economy is experiencing some chop, but no tsunami. The adverse winds could quickly pick up – and merit a stronger policy response. But recently they have shifted to a more favourable direction”
"The breaching of this land bridge between Dover and Calais was undeniably one of the most important events in British history, helping to shape our island nation's identity even today," said Professor Sanjeev Gupta, a co-author from the Department of Earth Science and Engineering at Imperial. "When the ice age ended and sea levels rose, flooding the valley floor for good, Britain lost its physical connection to the mainland. Without this dramatic breaching Britain would still be a part of Europe. This is Brexit 1.0 – the Brexit nobody voted for."
Theresa May has repeatedly stressed that the more contemporary Brexit will take two years and will see the country leave the European Union, but not Europe. That separation from the continent actually happened 450,000 years ago, it turns out.
Britain is thought to have separated from mainland Europe as a result of spill over from a lake, which formed in front of an ice sheet. Researchers have long believed that theory, but it has remained unproven – until the new research showed that the opening of the Dover Strait, which now houses the Channel Tunnel, happened in two episodes.
The new study, published in Nature Communications, shows how the chalk ridge that sits between Dover and Calais was breached. New data shows evidence of huge holes and a valley system on the seafloor.
Before Britain split from Europe, the chalk ridge acted as a huge dam, keeping the lake behind it. But the lake then overflowed in huge waterfalls, eroding the rock away until it broke and released huge amounts of water into the valley.
Later on – perhaps hundreds of thousands of years later – the Dover Strait was fully opened up. Other, smaller lakes in front of North Sea ice sheets spilled over and into a valley network between the two landmasses, separating the two entirely.
The work combines ten years of research to paint a picture of how the English Channel came to be flooded and create the original Brexit, splitting Europe from the British Isles.
"Based on the evidence that we've seen, we believe the Dover Strait 450,000 years ago would have been a huge rock ridge made of chalk joining Britain to France, looking more like the frozen tundra in Siberia than the green environment we know today," said Jenny Collier, a co-author of the study from the Department of Earth Science and Engineering at Imperial College London. "It would have been a cold world dotted with waterfalls plunging over the iconic white chalk escarpment that we see today in the White Cliffs of Dover.
"We still don't know for sure why the proglacial lake spilt over. Perhaps part of the ice sheet broke off, collapsing into the lake, causing a surge that carved a path for the water to cascade off the chalk ridge. In terms of the catastrophic failure of the ridge, maybe an earth tremor, which is still characteristic of this region today, further weakened the ridge. This may have caused the chalk ridge to collapse, releasing the megaflood that we have found evidence for in our studies."
The central evidence is the nature of the holes found on the bottom of the channel, which appear to have been caused by water plunging from the lake and into the valleys and then hitting the grond. Engineers first evidence of those pools when carrying out surveys of the seafloor in the 1960s, but researchers have gradually found evidence that they were caused by huge, ancient waterfalls.
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