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The people of northeast England learned this week that they’re now represented in the European Parliament by a man named Brian Monteith. A member of the Brexit Party and a well-off businessman with a private-school education, Mr. Monteith joins a caucus of members of European Parliament who believe Britain should not be represented in that legislature and should cut its formal ties with the continent.

Mr. Monteith was not exactly a familiar face to them. That’s because he lives in the village of Trévien, in the Midi-Pyrénées region of southern France. He campaigned in England, on his anti-Europe platform, by flying back and forth from his French village, where he’s able to avail himself of France’s excellent healthcare and public services thanks to his European citizenship.

You might regard Mr. Monteith’s jolly hypocrisy as an irony-laced anomaly – a man whose life seemed comically out of step with his political faction.

In fact, his rootlessness and privilege are the quintessence of the Brexit movement. Like other nationalist factions around the world, it is predominantly an elite movement, one whose leaders, founders, organizers and key supporters are well-off figures who could be described as “anywheres” – individuals who can already afford to live in any country they choose, and shift their assets into whatever banking and taxation system suits them best, and who thus have little use for awkward international bodies.

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Brexit Party leader Nigel Farage and Brian Monteith attend a campaign event in Sunderland, Britain, on May 11, 2019.SCOTT HEPPELL/Reuters

Unlike most working Britons, the Brexiteers’ livelihoods do not depend on the trade and jobs and services that flow from European unification and robust public institutions (almost all of the Brexiteers have private educations and pay for private medicine). So, they view those ties and institutions as an annoying hindrance to their freedom, a source of taxes and pesky regulations that hamper their already-international lives.

Britain’s current political crisis is thus a direct consequence of its class system – but it’s not the class division you think it is. The great legerdemain of nationalist movements, in Britain and elsewhere, has been in creating the illusion of being a voice of the “have-nots” – in good part because they persuaded a wide range of people to vote in a 2016 referendum on an issue that had never been of great public interest. The majority (59 per cent) of people who voted “Leave” were middle class or better, but it’s true that most lower-income districts did vote to leave, continuing a long British history of the workers unwittingly doing the bidding of the landed classes.

The plutocratic nature of the Brexit scheme is no longer very well hidden, in the wake of the resignation announcement last week by Prime Minister Theresa May, who, as a vicar’s daughter of ordinary means, had temporarily given the movement a more humble face.

That power vacuum is now being filled by the original Brexit authors. The favoured challenger to replace Ms. May is Boris Johnson, the former London mayor and newspaper columnist. Educated at Eton and at a private school in Brussels, Mr. Johnson spent much of the last three decades living on the continent and currently spends part of the year at his father’s villa in Greece.

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Former London mayor Boris Johnson is favoured to replace Prime Minister Theresa May.TOLGA AKMEN/AFP/Getty Images

Nigel Farage, whose career was revived when his Brexit Party did well in the European elections, is the private-school-educated father of two German children, and is likely eligible for German citizenship himself. He spends his spare time shark fishing in Kenya and other sunny former imperial outposts, and has his considerable private earnings paid into an offshore bank account.

The posh cosmopolitanism of Brexit has always been its defining feature – a fact I recognize from my own family history. There is a British branch of my father’s French Huguenot family (sadly not the branch we’re part of) that has long been wealthy and well-connected, and played a key role in promoting the idea of a rerun for the British EU referendum (the original one, in 1975, produced a strong Remain result).

Nicholas Luard, a great uncle a couple times removed (but close enough that Luard is one of the given names of both my father and my son), was an international adventurer who lived a coddled life. After completing his boarding-school education, he inherited a pot of money which he used to purchase the upstart magazine Private Eye and a Soho nightclub, before launching a career writing thick novels set in interesting countries in which he’d resided.

He broke into politics in the 1990s as a co-founder of the Referendum Party, launched with another wealthy offshore businessman which later melded into Mr. Farage’s movement. He ran in the 1997 election and lost, all while living the easy and low-tax life he’d enjoyed for decades in Andalusia, Spain.

So, Brian Monteith is far from the first or the only Brexiteer to live a life of adventure on the continent while campaigning against continental adventures. That simultaneous having and eating of cake has long been an amusing folly of the fortunate few – one that has now tossed their rarely visited country into a decade of chaos.

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