The Brexit saga: Schiller’s tragedy resurrected

The Brexit saga, a Schiller’s tragedy still alive
The Brexit saga, a Schiller’s tragedy still alive

A Déjà vu prologue:

The proof of justice lies not in the voice

Of numbers; England’s not the world, nor is

Thy parliament the focus, which collects

The vast opinion of the human race.

This present England is no more the future,

Than ’tis the past; as inclination changes,

Thus ever ebbs and flows the unstable tide

Of public judgment.  Say not, then, that thou

Must act as stern necessity compels,

That thou must yield to the importunate

Petitions of thy people; ev’ry hour

Thou canst experience that thy will is free

Make trial, and declare, thou hatest blood, […] [Extracted from p. 60- George Talbot, Earl of Shrewsbury (after a pause).]

– Doesn’t it sound like the words uttered since June 23 in the UK? Doesn’t it sound like behind some of those verses are the minds of former PM D. Cameron? even Queen Elizabeth II? One might find between the same lines at the same time the voice of Eurosceptics and Europhiles.

In an historical irony, the above extract is taken from Schiller’s immortal “Mary Stuart” (Published by David McKay 1898, Philadelphia, trans. from German). Apparently, the great German dramaturg, besides being a good connoisseur of British history, through this work actually demonstrated to make history by prophesizing the future.

Synopsis: Britain obfuscates the ever-closer union

Three months ago, on June 23, British citizens voted whether to leave or stay within the “ever-closer union.” The outcome of the referendum depicted England saying a “NO” to Brussels, thus stopping for the first time the European Union since its creation from getting always ever-closer. Everyone in Europe, and the world, was shocked from the decision by a slim majority of British citizens. Whether we like it or not, the decision is now fact and has entered European contemporary history.

Brexit Referendum

Nevertheless, it’s not the first time in history that U.K. has made this sort of ‘national catharsis’ to evaluate the strength of its affiliation with the rest of the continent. We recall also the 1975 referendum that urged the British citizens to express their will if they wanted U.K. to continue staying in the then European Economic Community (EEC), ending with 67% in favor of continuing to be a member of the EEC. Before that, let us remember that it was U.K. that sought to enter the EEC in 1962, but it was the French ultra-conservative former President Charles De Gaulle who vetoed the U.K. membership, although the vote occurred during the Macmillan conservative government. The talks restarted in 1967 during Harold Wilson’s labour leadership, in spite of the close friendship that he shared with post-Gaullist French President, Georges Pompidou. The talks peaked after de Gaulle’s death (1970) with the lifting of the veto by President Pompidou and the accession-negotiations between U.K.’s conservative leadership of Edward Heath and the EEC in 1972 that ultimately led to the joining of the U.K., Ireland, and Denmark in 1973.

If we study history, we can better understand the present and help ourselves predict the future. These historical milestones tell us a lot about the current British political climate. It is not a surprise that the last Brexit saga occurred once again under Tory leadership.

Britain & EU at a crossroads

Following Schiller’s tragedy in the XVIth Century, the contest for the English crown between the Queen of Scots, Mary Stuart, and Elizabeth I, the heir of King Henry VIII, echoes today as the battle between pro-continental (Scotland voted clearly in favor to stay) or pro-island orientation.

Various Brexit analysts around the world have expressed their opinions on the impact that this exit will have upon EU and U.K. Their opinions have been summarized below by categorizing them into foreign policy and economic views.

Foreign PolicyOn Foreign Policy:

Starting with  Tsipras and ending lately with Cameron, 2 referendums occurred within 1 year inside EU, predict that other referenda will be held, starting first within U.K. Firstly, it seems Scotland will seek independence from the British crown and integration with the continent. Secondly, Northern Ireland is expected to seek unification with the Republic of Ireland. In the meantime, Poland, Czech Republic, Hungary and perhaps Netherlands and Denmark, will Scotland remains closer to the Continentbe watching the effects post-Brexit and if the damage is manageable by Britain, chances to take a similar path will grow even in those countries. Another special case is that of Gibraltar, which is under the Commonwealth dominion since the Treaty of Utrecht in 1713. Although Spain has laid historical claims to recover the territory, the odds now seem more challenging, as Gibraltar is an overseas territory of U.K. and a part of EU “as a European territory for whose external relations a Member State is responsible.” (Alluding for U.K.: Declaration 55 annexed to the Treaty on the Functioning of the European Union.) For the local population, it is vital to remain part of the EU’s single market and, at the same time, keen an open border with Spain. With Brexit results, they will have to strike a deal between maintaining themselves in the Schengen area, and avoiding a border-closure with Spain like in 1969 and 1985. Gibraltar has a unique geopolitical position as it serves as the main gate between the Atlantic and the Mediterranean Archipelago. In other words, Gibraltar is a bridge between the New Continent and the Old one, therefore a sweet deal for them is in everybody’s interest.

On the other hand, the special-relationship between U.K. & U.S.A. will increase, though slow in pace as the Americans will turn towards other partners in the region at the same time. The Brexit vote was also supported even by a large share of American opinion. At least, this is evident if we take into consideration  an online poll conducted by “The Independent” where 80% of the Americans were in favor for Britain to leave EU, even more from the voters within the island itself (53%). In the end, Russia will be satisfied seeing the Union disintegrating and will be more eager to probe at NATO’s vulnerable points. However, the Union without U.K. will be more consolidated and anchored by a reinvigorated German-French partnership. As the joke goes around, the French President De Gaulle might rise from his tomb at Colombey les Deux Eglises in order to restore unity within the Union.

On Economy

On Economy:

Perhaps the most important issue for Britain is to reach an accord with EU regarding the relocation of the businesses and companies of British residents. Time is stringent for these negotiations to conclude, as Article 50 of Lisbon Treaty clearly sets a time frame of 2-years after the formal request for withdrawal from the Union to define the future relationship between that country and EU. But for EU, as the President of European Commission J.C. Junker unfolded with his declaration in front of the parliament, it is not in the Union’s interest to rush those negotiations. The Eurocrats will certainly make it more expensive for Britain to hold relations on an ad-hoc basis. Meanwhile, businesses will lobby Brussel to make this “divorce” as amicable as possible, in order to preserve their winning and mitigate their losses. However, the sterling will be devaluated and this will spark more exports and British goods & services, which will be more attractive in the short-run compared to the world prices, and in the long-run will match the latter. In the case of the special relationship with U.S.A., economic contacts will strengthen, as the latter will face a trade deficit towards the Island and the Federal Reserve Bank will have to hold off the dollar’s rate. Eventually in U.K., this situation in the beginning will lead to a recession, freezing of the real estate “bubble” and loss of jobs in the financial sector due to the relocation of firms.

The quickest and easier option for British homeland producers exporting to EU will be to dislocate towards the continent to avoid the Union’s tariff or quotas. Hence there is a distinction between British producers. Those who have their greatest market share in EU, evidently will lose this “tariff premium”, whereas those producers who their greatest market share is worldwide, eventually will face now world prices for their products or services. World prices are determined by the world demand & supply of each good together with the GDP of the importing country which moves the demand for each good. According to an economic study by Patrick Minford, Britain is expected in the long run to have a 4% trade gain on its GDP by moving out of the tariff zone into free trade.

Within the Eurozone, the friction between debtor and lender countries will increase as the public debate over austerity will face more friction. For the moment, German taxpayers are paying Greek pensions. At the same time, the eternal salient issue of fiscal unification will grow stronger. As the saying goes, in one face of the coin are politics, once you turn the other you face economy. At this point, the fiscal issue will be at stakes of the populist and right wing party strength: if they do win more support (as these first 3-months post-Brexit have shown), then the supporters for fiscal unification will start believe it as a dream.

In the end, holding fit the ground by continuing the sanctions against Russia, will become even more challenging for Brussels, and will pressure the European leaders to reconsider their stance towards Moscow.

A Post-Déjà vu epilogue:

O! servitude of popularity !

Disgraceful slavery! How weary am I

Of flattering this idol, which my soul

Despises in its inmost depth! O! when

Shall I once more be free upon this throne?

I must respect the people’s voice, and strive

To win the favor of the multitude,

And please the fancies of a mob, whom nought

But jugglers’ tricks delight.

O call not him

A king who needs must please the world: ’tis he

Alone who in his actions does not heed

The fickle approbation of mankind.  [Schiller, Mary Stuart. (1898) p. 131-SCENE X. ELIZABETH alone.]

In this conclusion section, let us recall the old philosophical dilemma persistent in democracy: the power of majority over the minority. Is it true that justice & rightness is always in the side of the most rather than the few? Is that the majority’s will must persist over the rest, because that’s democracy, in the words of Churchill, the least bad form of governing that have been tried from time to time? These questions remind us on the works of A. de Tocqueville on the “tyranny of the majority”, or the Federalist Papers by Th. Jefferson.

Historically, Britain has always followed a different path from the rest of the old continent. Starting with the Norman Conquest of England by Duke William II of Normandy, the island was tied with the continent via its possessions in the North of France (Normandy and Flanders region). Later, those possessions served as the prelude to the 100-years of War between the French and English throne (1337-1453). This long and devastating war ended with a victory on the French side, and since then, the island started to develop a defensive attitude towards the continent. The English role in the European arena, observing the rise in power of the Monarchies of Austria (XVI), Spain and Portugal (XVI), France (XVII-XVIII), Germany (Prussia) and Italy (XIX) and lastly Russia (XX), was that of a balancer, allying always with the weaker against the stronger to maintain the status quo in the continent. The English never came up with an idea of unifying the continent, in fact if we follow the “national interest” doctrine, a divided Europe was much more in the interest of the island in terms of trade and security, especially when Britain, by the XVII Century, was undisputedly the “Queen of Seas”, transforming itself into a global maritime power shaping a unique Anglosphere culture and political identity.

Returning to the present, UK’s vote on leaving the Union due to forecasted economic benefits, sounds like a repeated debate between the free traders, who favored an open market and cheap goods, and the protectionists who preferred a protected domestic production. The period 1850-1914, saw the British parliament enacting different laws and experimenting with tariffs and quotas on imports to protect British agriculture and industry. It was under William Ewart Gladstone, Chancellor of Exchequer (serving under Sir Robert Peel, conservative party), who by 1860 had removed all protectionist regulations moving the island towards totally free trade. This continued until the Great Depression years in the 1920s, when the British economists, in an attempt to regenerate the island’s economy sought to draw back to protectionist regulations, thus enacting in 1932 the Import Duties Act.

If we see the economic side of the coin, although in the long-run those policies proved to be successful, the other side of Philip’s curve, the political face of the coin, shows that the Tories were shattered and defeated in the next elections. (Even Gladstone, after the split of the Tories, allied with Peel’s followers to found the Liberal Party.) This shows us an important historical lesson: that difficult economic decisions that “might” be productive in the long-run, require a strong political leadership not afraid to become martyrized. Such economic decisions, at the time of proposal are mostly politically challenged, because in politics time floats faster and requires less deviated decisions from the usual standard ones, whereas time in economy progresses in a slower pace as the results are expected in a distant point of the future. Thus is not a surprise that often the political leadership that carries such difficult decisions, soon ends in opposition. Eventually, the economic proposal losses the “know-how” experts and becomes a burden for the new political leadership, which might continue forward with it or turn it down and adopt another plan, that ultimately will require again time to be implemented properly.

To conclude, let us remind again the contest for the English throne between the Queen of Scots and that of England, immortalized on Schiller’s masterpiece “Mary Stuart.” On one hand, the Queen of Scots, with close ties to European heritage through her catholic religion, her first marriage (Dauphin of France, France) and relatives in France, and on the other hand the Queen of England, a liberal protestant and the successor of Tudor dynasty. If the Stuarts would have made it to the throne, perhaps England would have followed another path, probably closely tied to European politics. But this did not happen. Elizabeth I maintained the Crown, and England followed the historical course known as isolationist vis á vis the continent. Despite the decapitation of Mary Stuart (on suspicious charges of plotting against the Queen), which was a difficult political decision that generated a considerable unpopular sentiment against Elizabeth I, together with other economic decisions that followed, in the end England succeeded to create a world empire reaching its peak in the XVIIth Century.

Although the political decision (beheading of Mary Stuart) put an end to the Tudor dynasty and returned the English throne to James I (son of Mary Stuart), thus unifying Scotland with England and Ireland under one royal Crown (proclaimed himself in titles even as King of France as a nephew of Charles IX, although never ruled in France), it took almost two other centuries for the economic results to be felt. Now the question that rises is: were the enthusiasts of this unification at the time the majority?

Britain Alone

Below is a personal collection of quotes regarding the dialectics of the moral philosophical dilemma over the “power of majority.” I leave it to the reader to decide whether Britain or EU is following the will of majority, and if this is the case, if the right decision for the country weights on the same side.

“The voice of the majority is no proof of justice.” – Friedrich Schiller, Maria Stuart.

“Whenever you find yourself on the side of the majority, it is time to reform (or pause and reflect).” – Mark Twain

“In matters of conscience, the law of the majority has no place.”- Mahatma Gandhi.

“Truth cannot be decided by the vote of the majority because truth is utterly individual and private.” – Osho, The Secret of Secrets.

“Wrong does not cease to be wrong because the majority share in it.” – Leo Tolstoy, A Confession.

“The majority merely disagreed with other people’s proposals, and, as so often happens in these disasters, the best course always seemed the one for which it was now too late.” – Tacitus

“Quantity has its own quality.”- V. I. Lenin

“Be this as it may, they decided by vote which of the books out of the collection they had made, should be the WORD OF GOD, and which should not. They rejected several; they voted others to be doubtful, such as the books called the Apocrypha; and those books which had a majority of votes, were voted to be the word of God. Had they voted otherwise, all the people since calling themselves Christians had believed otherwise; for the belief of the one comes from the vote of the other.” – Thomas Paine, The Age of Reason.

“Not everything that counts can be counted, and not everything that can be counted counts.” – Albert Einstein.



Tombs, Robert. (June 24, 2016) The Long Road to Brexit: Markets are stunned. Commenters are shocked. But future historians may view this moment as inevitable. Foreign Policy.

Leonard, Mar. (June 24, 2016) Brexit: The foreign policy implications. European Council on Foreign Relations.

Politico Magazine. (June 25, 2016) How Brexit Will Change the World? 17 top economists, foreign policy gurus and historians look five years into the future.

Maguire, Kevin. (July 3, 2016) Brexit fall-out will put Iraq foreign policy calamity in the shade. Mirror UK.

Minford, Patrick. (June 22, 2016) The Economic Case for a Brexit. Forbes.

Sola, Katie. (June 22, 2016) Brexit Poll Shows 80% Of Americans Think Britain Should Leave EU. Forbes.

Worstall, Tim. (June 28, 2016) Brexit Isn’t About Leaving Today’s European Union: It’s About Not Joining Tomorrow’s. Forbes.

Editorial Board. (Sept. 5, 2016) Brexit fallout looms large over Gibraltar. Mediterranean Affairs.

Cain, P. J. (autumn, 1999) British Free Trade, 1850-1914: Economics and Policy. Recent Findings of Research in Economic & Social History (ReFRESH). No. 29. (continually updated.) Free trade and protection.


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