Everybody knows that the British Empire no longer exists but nobody is quite certain when it ended. One of the many difficulties with identifying a precise date or period for the ‘fall’ of the empire is that its years of decline were also years of dramatic transformation in the politics and society of both metropolitan Britain and the overseas territories that the British had once governed in the imperial periphery. The independence ceremonies of newly liberated countries are perhaps the most conspicuous markers of national reassertion and imperial decline; but long before the British abandoned formal political control of their Asian, African and American colonies, relations between metropolis and periphery were undergoing very significant changes which ramified well beyond the confines of politics. And even after all were agreed that the formal British empire was no more, its influence was still strongly felt in the former colonial territories, in Britain itself and in the international system.
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