The new British government of Theresa May is playing for time and stalling with the triggering of Article 50. It is clear that the whole machine of British governance was completely unprepared for the result of the EU referendum. It is also an indication that withdrawal from the European Union is going to be a mammoth task that will consume all the energy of Whitehall for many years to come. In many ways it is mission impossible which further reinforces the reckless irresponsibility of David Cameron for calling the referendum in the first place. No responsible Prime Minister would ever have agreed to open such a dangerous Pandora’s Box.
History teaches us that British exits are fraught with peril and have been handled in the usual British governmental way of incompetence and ensuing disaster. As Dr Henry Kissinger has said, «time is not neutral». The past is still very much with us and informs the present while shaping the future. Ergo, it is instructive to review the success of British Exits of the past and the consequences that have flowed from them which are still with us today. When it became clear to the British ruling elite that the British Empire was no longer financially sustainable (rather than any moral considerations) that was the trigger for Brexit from the imperial colonies which Britain had acquired through invasion, land grabs and colonisation.
Take India for example. The borders that the British Government in the late 1940s drew up to partition India into Hindu and Muslim areas with two separate States creating Pakistan left tens of millions of minorities stranded in newly divided India and Pakistan. Millions of Muslims travelled into Pakistan and Hindus vice versa into India. The ethnic shuffle this partition created led to terrible violence costing the lives of hundreds of thousands of people in the ensuing population transfer. The issue of Kashmir is still a flash point of tension between India and Pakistan to this day.
A similar situation was left behind by the British partial exit in Ireland. By the end of the First World War and the excessively draconian crackdown on southern Irish nationalist rebels after the attempted insurrection of Easter 1916, the British Government decided to partition the island of Ireland into two separate states similar to the exit strategy they had pursued in India. While the South of Ireland was set on a path to become an independent republic, the North was reduced to a rump of six counties, roughly the size of Yorkshire, with its own devolved Parliament and local Government but still within the UK, purposely designed to ensure a pro-British majority due to the presence of descendants of English and Scottish Protestant settlers (shipped in during the 16th century as colonists known as «unionists» or «loyalists») by omitting three counties from what is known as the Province of Ulster.
As with the partition of India and Pakistan, a significant minority of Roman Catholics who felt more Irish than British were left stranded in what became Northern Ireland and were confronted by a sectarian devolved administration that actively promoted discrimination against the Catholic minority in housing, employment, cultural rights and local government. The civil unrest that broke out in British administered Northern Ireland mirrored the violence that erupted with the British partition and exit from India and Pakistan.
Then there was Rhodesia, what is now known as Zimbabwe. After trying to get rid of the racist white minority government of Ian Smith, the British Government cut a deal with the equally unsavoury extremist Robert Mugabe handing over the country to him which he still runs to this day. With the washing of their hands of Zimbabwe the British Government left the country in the hands of a crazed, megalomaniac dictator who has run Zimbabwe into the ground ever since.
Along with Brexit from the European Union and the concerns over British withdrawal there has been quite a to do recently concerning Chinese investment in critical British national infrastructure, namely the proposed nuclear power plant at Hinkley Point C. While the Chinese have no history or record of interfering with other countries key national assets, the British have a track record of this which also highlights another disastrous British Exit. The Suez Canal was stolen from Egypt by the British Government of Benjamin Disraeli in the 19th century. Rather than return the Suez Canal to its rightful owners, the Egyptians, the British Government attempted to maintain possession of it even when they were divesting themselves of their imperial possessions elsewhere even going to the extreme lengths of invading the canal when the Egyptian regime of Colonel Nasser rightly nationalised it bringing it back under Egyptian control. The British military intervention ultimately failed, thanks in part to the wise decision of the Eisenhower administration to initiate a run on the pound to reign in British imperial pretensions and adventures abroad. The British led military disaster had the counterproductive effect of strengthening the rule of Nasser, not weakening it. It was also one of the greatest military humiliations the British had suffered since their inability to stop the advancing Wehrmacht during the Fall of France in the summer of 1940 and the infamous retreat and scuttle at Dunkirk.
Now Europe and the rest of the world are braced for the next great Brexit in a long line of inglorious, inept and in many cases as illustrated above – deadly – British exits and withdrawals. Unfortunately, many British Governments whether they be Tory, Labour or Liberal down the ages have not acquitted themselves well when it came to disentangling themselves from commitments either abroad or within the British Isles. Sadly, as history has shown, wherever the British State has inserted itself abroad where it had no business interfering in and then exited, a litany of death, violence, destruction and civil and ethnic unrest has followed. So the historical portents are not promising. The EU is rightly in no mood to bend over backwards to accommodate the peculiarities of the UK in its self-induced Brexit crisis. Other European member states have spent the last forty-three years constantly accommodating the peculiarities of the UK and giving out special dispensations to London. Now, after the disgusting Leave campaign which was endorsed by the majority of the British electorate, Brussels patience with the difficult Brits has understandably been exhausted. There is very little good will left towards Britain in Brussels which makes the next epic British Exit just as fraught as the previous Brexits.