Brexit is a portmanteau word meaning “British exit from the European Union.” The referendum on Brexit in the UK in 2016 won by means of a majority of less than 2% of the votes cast representing less than 34% of the voting age population. The process took place in the worst possible conditions – false advertising, fake news, dismal voter participation, demagogy and xenophobia. Brexit is yet another example of the dangers of mixing representative government with government by plebiscite – other examples include the infamous Proposition 13 in California which turned one of the best public school systems in the nation into one of the worst and the vote for independence in Quėbec which, with a simple majority, would have torn Canada apart. Problem is, these simple majority referenda can amount to a form of mob rule.
The two components of the United Kingdom that would be most negatively affected by Brexit are the Celtic areas of Scotland and Northern Ireland; both voted to stay in the European Union – 62% and 55.8% respectively. Brexit would push Scotland toward independence risking the breakup of the UK itself. The threat of Brexit has already reignited The Troubles in Northern Ireland and enactment of Brexit will bring back more violence and bloodshed.
We learn in school about English imperialism and colonialism – how the sun never sets on the British Empire and all that. Historically, the first targets of English imperialism were the Celtic peoples of the British Isles – the Welsh, the Scots and the Irish.
Incursion into Welsh territory began with William the Conqueror himself in 1081 and by 1283 all Wales was under the control of the English King Edward I – known as Edward Longshanks for his great height for the time (6’2”).
A series of 13 invasions into Scotland began in 1296 under the that same celtiphobe English king, Edward I, who went to war against the Scottish heroes William Wallace (Mel Gibson in Braveheart) and Robert the Bruce (Angus Macfadyen in Robert the Bruce). So memorable was Edward’s hostility toward the Scots that on his tomb in Westminster Abbey is written
Edwardus Primus Scottorum malleus hic est, pactum serva
(Here is Edward I, Hammerer of the Scots. Keep The Faith)
In that most scholarly history of England, 1066 and All That, there is a perfect tribute to Edward I – a droll cartoon of him hammering Scots.
Edward I didn’t only have it in for the Welsh and the Scots but for Jews as well: in 1290 he issued the Edict of Expulsion, by which Jews were expelled from Merry England. His warmongering caught up with him though: Edward died in 1307 during a campaign against Robert the Bruce – though not of a surfeit but rather of dysentery.
The series continued until 1650 with an invasion led by Oliver Cromwell. To his credit, however, the Lord Protector (Military Dictator per Winston Churchill) revoked Edward’s Edict of Expulsion in 1657.
The story of English aggression in Ireland is even more damning. It started with incursions beginning in 1169 and the full scale invasion launched by King Henry II in 1171. Henry (Peter O’Toole in The Lion in Winter and in Becket) had motivation beyond the usual expansionism for this undertaking: he was instructed by Pope Adrian IV by means of the papal bull Laudabiliter to invade and govern Ireland; the goal was to enforce papal authority over the too autonomous Irish Church. Adrian was the only English pope ever and certainly his motives were “complex.” His bull was a forerunner of the Discovery Doctrine of European and American jurisprudence which justifies Christian takeover of native lands (click HERE ). English invasions continued through to full conquest by Henry VIII, the repression of rebellions under Elizabeth I, and the horrific campaign of Oliver Cromwell. There followed the plantation system in Northern Ireland as the six counties of Ulster became known, and a long period of repressive government under the Protestant Ascendancy. The Irish Free State was only formed in 1922 after a prolonged violent struggle and at the price of partition of the Emerald Isle into Northern Ireland and the Free State; the modern Republic of Ireland only dates from 1949. The “low-level war” known as The Troubles that began in the 1960s was triggered by the discrimination against Catholics that the English-backed regime in the Ulster parliament maintained. This kind of discrimination was endemic: according to memory, no Catholic was hired to work on the building of the Titanic in the Belfast shipyards; according to legend, the Titanic had “F__ the Pope” written on it; according to history, blasphemy does not pay. The Troubles were a violent and bitter period of conflict between loyalists/unionists (mainly Protestants who wanted to stay in the UK) and nationalists/republicans (mainly Catholics who wanted a united Ireland). The Troubles finally ended with the Good Friday Agreement of 1998 that was possible because of joint membership in the EU which made Northern Ireland and the Republic both part of a larger political unit and which, for all practical purposes, ended the frontier separating them – a frontier which until then was manned by armed British soldiers.
Economically and politically, the EU has been good for the Irish Republic and it has become a prosperous modern Scandinavian style European country – indeed Irish born New York Times writer Timothy Egan titled his July 20th op-ed “Send me back to the country I came from.”
Scotland too benefits from EU membership, from infrastructure investments, worker protection regulations and environmental standards – things dear to the socially conscious Scots.
In the 2016 vote, Wales voted for Brexit (52.5%) but the latest polls show that the Welsh would vote against it if a re-vote were held today – as would the English themselves.
All this history makes the Brexit vote of 2016 simply amoral and sadistic. To add to that, the main reason Theresa May’s proposal for a “soft Brexit” with a “backstop” was repeatedly shot down was its customs union clause that it would have forestalled the border closing in Northern Ireland. On the other hand, reversing the process because of the harm it would inflict on peoples who have been victims of British imperialism over the centuries would be a long overdue gesture of Truth and Reconciliation by the English. Alas, prospects for this are not good, especially with “hard Brexit” demagogue Boris Johnson as prime minister.