The most enduring conceit of the Brexit debate is the idea that the British people in recent years were fed up to the back teeth with the unelected bureaucrats of Brussels, the overbearing nature of the European Court of Justice and the impudence of the European Parliament. They weren’t. It was immigration that swung the vote in favour of Leave, not sovereignty. Most Brits who are not politicians or journalists had little cause to think about the institutions and powers of the EU from one year to the next, and nor, these days, do they spend much of their time reflecting on Brexit.

They are not alone in this.

I live in rural France, and believe me when I tell you, the subject of Britain’s impending departure from the European Union is not the topic on everybody’s lips. I don’t think any French man or woman has raised the subject with me this year. The fact of the matter is, they don’t care that much. At the time of the referendum and in the days following the announcement that Brexit meant Brexit, there was the odd wry smile, even a sardonic comment or two. But generally speaking, the most momentous decision made within the EU since its foundation in 1957 passed them by, no more remarkable that snow in April, less noteworthy than the upcoming reduction in the speed limit on national roads from 90 to 80 kph.

Mind you, the good folk of central Brittany, where I live, don’t appear much moved by the Macron Revolution either, or by the strikes that immobilise much of the railway system on a weekly basis, or the response of the riot police to protests by students and anarchists. Life goes on and Paris is a long way away – nearly as far as Brussels.

In Italy, too, where politics is an ongoing vendetta, no one, I feel sure, gives a stuff about Theresa May and Philip Hammond versus Jacob Rees-Mogg and Boris Johnson. Most Italians will not have heard of any of them and some at least will have confused Boris with Trump and Theresa May with Margaret Thatcher. They know as much about our Big Beasts as we do about Luigi Di Maio, head of the Five Star Movement and Matteo Salvini, leader of La Lega, joint winners of last month’s general election. The FT this morning asked, Who Rules Italy? Who indeed? And outside of Italy, how many of us honestly care? It’s their business, let them get on with it.

The same is true of Germany. How many of you honestly know what the big issues are in Berlin this year? You will know that Angela Merkel is battling on as Chancellor, weakened by her party’s poor performance in last September’s federal elections. You will also be aware that, following her decision to admit one million immigrants in 2015, the right-wing AFD party won a bunch of seats in the Bundestag. You will know, in a general sense, that the German economy is strong and that Germans are generally first to the beach on holiday. But that, I imagine, is just about it.

I could go on. But I think I’ve made my point. The EU is frequently cast by its opponents in the UK as a monolith, in which technocrats like Jean-Claude Juncker and Donald Tusk, abetted by ambitious members of the European Parliament (Guy Verhofstadt), conspire with the leaders of Germany and France to frustrate Britain and construct a United States of Europe.

In fact, what is most conspicuous about the EU in 2018 is the extent to which it is in hock – some would say dangerously so – to the preoccupations of its member states. Poland and Hungary are a case in point. They do what they like. They are paid billions of euros each year out of the central budget to help them match their economies with those of their richer western neighbours. But they ignore those regulations and policies with which they disagree, most obviously on immigration and the administration of justice, preferring to snuggle up to Putin’s Russia than Juncker’s Brussels. Emmanuel Macron and Angela Markel huff and puff, but look powerless to act.

Greece, meanwhile, chunters along, deep in debt, constantly sniping at the Centre. Greeks refuse to acknowledge that, even allowing for the malign impact of the single currency at a time of global crisis, it was their national profligacy and the widespread refusal of individuals and business to pay their taxes, at least as much the euro, that made the 2008 recession a practical certainty.

This is the Europe that I read about day in and day out: a family at war with itself, but a family nonetheless; Germany is strong, but jittery; France under Macron is waking from a lengthy slumber; Italy is crazy; Spain and Portugal are in recovery; so (if it would only admit it) is Greece; the East Bloc tries to have it both ways; the Baltic states are obsessed (not unreasonably) with Russia; the Nordic countries fret about the loss of their distinctiveness; Luxembourg counts its money; the Netherlands and Belgium do likewise, but also worry about immigration; Ireland looks for advantage in almost everything; Austria looks East and West at the same time … and so on and so on, interrupted only by elections and meetings of the European Council. And I haven’t mentioned Cyprus and Malta, Slovenia and Croatia.

Which brings me back to Britain and Brexit. Next month’s summit in Brussels is the one that is scheduled to set the terms of our departure from the EU, albeit with years of trade talks to follow. It would be nice if Theresa May and her unruly cohorts, feuding among themselves like medieval barons, could bring something coherent to the table on which the 27 could vote. But don’t hold your breath. Even now, we barely know what we’re doing.

The real tragedy of Brexit is that Britain never learned how to play the European game. Over the 45 years of our membership of the EEC/EU, we failed to understand that what happened in Brussels wasn’t all about us. We saw every decision that was taken as a sleight aimed at British pride and sovereignty by a group of nations who envied us our island story and spent most of their time engineering our downfall.

The truth is, France and Germany and all of the rest, particularly the smaller countries, were constantly disappointed by our failure to lead and the petty nature of our quarrels. As the Luxembourg foreign minister put it this week: “Before they were in with a lot of opt-outs; now they are out and want a lot of opt-ins.”  You could almost hear the sneer in his voice as he spoke – but was he wrong? Europe is moving on. Once our accounts have been settled, they want us gone as soon as possible. So let’s just get on with it.

The world will not cease to turn when Britain reverts to what it was in 1972. Europe will adjust, however painfully, and in life for its people will go on much as before. The farmers of central Brittany are worried about new regulations from Brussels that will further limit their use of dangerous herbicides. The French in general are hoping that the good weather, if it continues, will help boost tourism this summer. They are not overly bothered about the rail strikes, and they certainly aren’t bothered about Brexit.