Leading article: A river ran through it

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The Independent Online

Deep down, we knew it all along, didn't we? The reason for Britain's love-hate relationship with Europe, and more particularly with France, is that we were originally part of the Continent and broke away. Once upon a time, when all was peace, harmony and entente, the Weald of Kent and Sussex merged effortlessly into the rolling hills of Artois. The roses of Picardy were as much ours as theirs.

The great severance happened when the sea level rose, following an earlier bout of global warming – otherwise known as the end of the last ice age – and sent water from a vast inland lake rushing down what was then still a valley. We have been hurling insults and making up ever since. In one signal respect, however, the French have the upper hand. The huge river that came to divide us – permanently, from the perspective of today – was always called the Fleuve Manche, never the English Channel. We cannot deny it: the British are the arrivistes.