The spy still in the cold: Brexit leaves Smiley a stranger in UK

LONDON (Reuters) - He outwitted Soviet spies and played his part in the downfall of communism, but George Smiley, the fictitious British intelligence officer of John le Carre’s novels, is ending his days feeling lost in his own country because of Brexit.

British author John le Carre addresses a news conference at the 51th Berlinale International Film Festival in Berlin February 11, 2001. REUTERS/Files

Smiley, reflecting on his long life, makes his final, if brief, appearance in le Carre’s new novel, “A Legacy of Spies”, which was published on Thursday.

“It was terribly hard to write this book during the period of Brexit and the ascendancy of Trump,” le Carre told BBC radio.

“And I’d like to think that Smiley was aware of the sense of aimlessness which has entered into all of our minds - we seem to be joined by nothing but fear,” he said.

“Smiley, who has spent his life defending the flag in one way or another, feels alienated from it, feels a stranger in his own country, and that’s why we find him and indeed leave him in a foreign place.”

A Legacy of Spies sees the return of le Carre’s familiar characters from the MI6 intelligence agency, including Smiley’s right-hand man Peter Guillam, as their Cold War operations come under scrutiny from a new, more morally scrupulous, generation of intelligence officers.

Le Carre, now 85 and whose real name is David Cornwell, said Smiley’s dream was to see a unified Europe which helped him justify his actions during the Cold War, a time of treachery and moral ambiguity.

“The dream he had was of a second Reformation, and of a great, peaceful, democratic Europe,” he said.

“Because it’s such a difficult period in which to write - with Brexit which I detest and Trump whom I also detest - what we are looking at is Europe as the squeezed middle, democratic rule as we understand it being assailed from both sides of the Atlantic and that for Smiley is a big thing to swallow,” he said.

Smiley’s appearance in the latest book will be his first for 25 years. He made his debut in 1961 in “Call for the Dead” and most famously featured in “Tinker Tailor Soldier Spy”, “The Honourable Schoolboy” and “Smiley’s People.”

Reporting by Rachel Wood; Editing by William Schomberg and Stephen Addison