I Resign!

Such appeared to be the call from the people of England (as opposed to “Britain”) a few weeks ago. Now that the dust is at least partly settling it is a good time to look at things in a historical context.

First of all, did the English people really make that decision? Britain is, they say, a parliamentary democracy. But here we are reminded of the words of the French political philosopher Jean Jacques Rousseau in the mid 1700’s  -” democracy is  dictatorship by the majority”. OK if, as some would have us believe, the majority is always right. But is it?

What do we mean by the majority? That is a very valid question in this case. The “majority” was small. We are told that the younger generation who would have supported maintaining the European connection didn’t for the most part turn out to vote! So where does that leave us? Again, something that surprises me is that it went on a 50/50 system. I would have thought that such plebiscites usually went on a two-thirds majority to prevent the sort of situation mentioned above.

Historically how does the vote measure up? Britain is an island, and islands historically claim the right to go it alone, manage their own affairs, pull up the drawbridge on foreign interference. Perhaps the larger half of Britain represented by England has a long and deep-rooted desire for independence and a suspicion of foreigners. I am minded of a poem by the Roman poet Horace almost 2000 years ago where he prays that heaven will protect the Emperor Augustus on his visit to the “Stranger-hating Britons”.    Such long-standing traditions must be hard to break – and let us stop blaming the Anglo-Saxons who didn’t appear until much later!

Scotland, a virtual “peninsula” of England, has historically much stronger ties with the Continent, going back over centuries. Ireland also, an isolated island, likewise has long-standing European connections. It is possible that both Scotland and Ireland have regarded certain European countries as potential allies against their larger neighbor. England on the other hand has over the centuries cause to  regard European countries, particularly from the south and east, as enemies (EG Scandinavia, Holland, France, Spain).

To look at a specific example of this we have only to consider the case of Henry VIII. Henry, in common with other European monarchs, had cause to resent an international system where hostile alliances could be made against them through link between the Pope of the day and other states. Far too much has been made of “religion” in looking at

Henry’s break with Rome. What we see here is an international situation where England’s independence and right to manage its own affairs was under threat.

An island nation has the advantage, given a strong navy, of being able to follow its own destiny without the constant apprehension of attack from a land-neighbor.  Ithas the disadvantage of losing cultural and other contact with the rest of the world. When exposed to outside influences suspicion can set in and a phobia may even develop.

The Romans went through this phase as their Empire developed. Juvenal and other writers condemned the decline in traditional Roman standards brought in by Greeks and other  races from  the east. Sounds familiar?

A factor which may have played some part in the vote would be the growing “Middle Eastern” presence. Probably the last time this happened was around 5000 BC when the first farmers arrived among the hunter-gatherer inhabitants of Britain , coming also from “Middle Eastern” countries. Emigration and resulting tensions never stop, do they? Did they have a brexit vote then? Can’t take the word brexit seriously – still sounds like a new breakfast cereal!


  1. Shrey Srivastava

    Thanks for this blog post regarding Brexit; I really enjoyed it and am definitely recommending this blog to my friends and family. I’m a 15 year old with a blog on finance and economics at shreysfinanceblog.com, and would really appreciate it if you could read and comment on some of my articles, and perhaps follow, reblog and share some of my posts on social media. Thanks again for this fantastic post.

  2. belshade

    Hi Shrey – Thank you for following my blog. I hope you gain some pleasure from the mix of photography and history ancient and modern. Thank you for your kind remarks. I will have to write more frequent articles now – entering photographs is so much more the lazy way out! I am sure from the quality of your work you will have done well in your GCSE’s. Let me know how you got on.
    So we are at opposite ends of the scale – you are 15/16 and I am 88.But with luck age makes little difference to the human mind – except that you acquire experience – and a lot of mental junk!
    You are doing exceptionally well in your chosen field and perhaps you will take your studies further and even make a career in it. On the other hand you may do something else and retain economics as a life-long interest, as I have with history for example.
    Now I will have to admit that your skills in the world of economics are far ahead of mine, and I would be ill-qualified to comment on the subject-matter of your posts. Seventy years ago I took Stage I Economics at Queen’s University Belfast as a small part of my studies in Political Philosophy and History. I was pleasantly surprised to pass that exam, as I found the topic difficult – I have a non-mathematical brain. Perhaps my skills are on what they now call the “Humanities” side.
    I have read a number of your posts and must bow to your superior knowledge. The article on brexit I did find within my grasp – and interesting. My own field of interest is on the general history side with a strong interest in prehistory and early civilizations. If you read my About entry you will get my approach.
    Looking at your articles there is one comment I which comes to mind – You start by referring to your age. This can be a d “double-edged sword” in this society of ours. On the one hand some will say “This is wonderful coming from such a young person” and others may say “Fifteen? He is too young to be taken seriously”. They would be wrong there! Now if I put my age the same thing would happen there -” At 88 he is too old to be taken seriously”.
    Are you doing O or A-levels? What are your future plans? I will watch your career with interest. Am I right in assuming you are from a Finance background? Where are you studying at present?
    I have a very varied background. Born in New Zealand of Irish parents who had to return to Ireland for economic reasons, I took my BA in the fields of my choice, was a teacher od History, Latin, and French in grammar schools in Ireland for some 16 years before moving into work I enjoyed much better – a careers guidance counsellor working with young people and adults, in Ireland, England, and back here in the land of my birth. When I retired I had a part-time job tutoring adults in history ancient and modern for over 20 years. So you see my economics/finance skills are sadly lacking. But I will be very glad to discuss with you anything you like.
    Best wishes. Des.

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