14 C O N T E X T 1 5 7 : N O V E M B E R 2 0 1 8 JOHN PENDLEBURY and LOES VELDPAUS Before and after Brexit If we hold a liberal vision of a future society, and thus of heritage, we need to better acknowledge and challenge the various realms and interpretations of heritage that exist. ‘Who controls the past controls the future. Who controls the present controls the past’ – George Orwell, 1984 Brexit means Brexit. Whatever this actually comes to mean, it is the inescapable phenomenon of our time, evoking anxiety, joy or even indif- ference; but nevertheless inescapable. Equally, it seems clear that the momentous decision to leave the European Union is part of a wider crisis in the institutions of liberal, metropolitan politics, evident in elections across the west; at the time of writing, most recently in Sweden, that bastion of social democracy. It can, however, be difficult to know how Brexit relates to our working lives. How does Brexit relate to what we do? The Heritage Alliance has made the case for the direct impact on the heritage sector.1 It is also important to discuss the wider cultural implications of Brexit.² We wish to make a deeper speculation that Brexit is a primarily cultural phenomenon, bound up with issues of individual and group identity and, as such, inextricably linked to our relationship with the past or, in other words, our heritage. The vote highlights deep cultural schisms within the UK that are, at least to a certain extent, rooted in very different imaginaries of the past and their uses in the present. If people want ‘their country back’, which country is that? Brexit is therefore very much a heritage project that also has implications for what heritage is and does in a post-Brexit country. As Joe Flatman³ states, ‘some people seek to see Historic England reinforce established cultural orthodoxies; others for it to actively challenge these.’ The rise of heritage is closely linked with the development of the modern nation state; herit- age was part of the apparatus of defining national identity and is an integral part of what Benedict Anderson termed ‘imagined communities’.⁴ The overt use of heritage in nation-building and nation-destruction has continued on the global stage through to modern times.⁵ Yet over time the heritage project has acquired a range of other roles. Specifically, in recent decades two large wider social, economic and political forces have Colston Hall in Bristol, pictured in the Illustrated London News in 1873. After much controversy, it has been agreed that the building will be renamed when it reopens in 2020 following refurbishment. Edward Colston (1636–1721), a Bristol-born merchant and philanthropist who made much of his wealth from the slave trade, is commemorated in several Bristol streets and buildings.