The UK referendum on continued membership of the European Union, which produced a victory for the ‘Leave’ campaign, was less a debate on the pros and cons of membership than a proxy for discussions about race and migration; specifically, who belonged and had rights (or should have rights) and who didn’t (and shouldn’t). One of the key slogans of those arguing for exit from the EU was: ‘we want our country back’. The racialized discourses at work here were not only present explicitly in the politics of the event; they are implicit in much social scientific analysis. Populist political claims are mirrored by an equivalent social scientific ‘presentism’ that elides proper historical context. In this presentation, I discuss the importance of understanding Brexit in the context of an historical sociological understanding that would enable us to make better sense of the politics of the present.