British Empire: Brexit and the end of Imperialism

Ever since the people of Britain chose to leave the European Union a huge political debate has been started on how far reaching effects if will have on European and world politics. Some experts are debating that a solitary route for Britain will be full of hardships and compromises, then there are those who say that by focusing on itself Britain will secure the future of coming generations.

Politicians and analysts have speculated about the legal complexities of leaving the European Union and the amount of time it would take to complete it. However, you don’t have to go that much further into history to realize that Britain has already dealt with this situation at an even bigger scale than Brexit.

The end of Imperialism began in the 1940s when Britain decided to make an exit from dozens of its occupied territories, the civil service was assigned the task of exit negotiations and in most cases they had just months to prepare. People who are worried about Britain’s survival outside of the European Union forget how tactfully it provided sovereignty to its occupied territories while keeping diplomatic and economic relations with them.

This is an impressive achievement especially when most of the inhabitants of these territories had extreme hate and loathing for British imperialism. The British were extremely harsh and ruthless when it came to ruling the populations of the occupied lands, they were also very greedy and stripped the lands of their resources. Throughout its era the British empire committed heinous atrocities but their are five major incidents of selfishness and brutality that stand out.

The first of these atrocities was the Boer concentration camps of South Africa (1899-1902), more than 100,000 people were detained in the camps 27,927 of whom died. The second incident is known as the Amritsar massacre, British soldiers opened fire at protesters in 1919 in India and killed 379 people in less than 10 minutes. The third atrocity was the hasty and unjust partition of the subcontinent which resulted in the deaths of a million people due to rioting and migration.

From 1951 to 1960 there was an uprising in Kenya called the Mau Mau uprising, the British government killed almost 10,000 Kenyans while subduing the rebellion. The last atrocity also occurred in the subcontinent, the British exported millions of tons of wheat from India creating a famine that killed between 12 and 29 million people.

The list of atrocities discussed above and many others like these are important to mention because what’s astonishing is that most of these nations kept diplomatic and economic relations with Britain and joined the commonwealth once they achieved sovereignty. There is a lot to learn from Britain’s imperial history when it comes to Brexit negotiations.

British civil services focused on three main points when imperial exits were negotiated: the first was withdrawing orderly, the second was maintaining political stability and finally to secure Britain’s investment and trading interests.

Just as other super powers at that time were surprised and speculative of Britain’s withdrawal from the empire many countries including United States are speculative of its exit from European Union. The Obama administration was not supportive of Britain’s decision and looked at it as Britain is giving up its political and military role.

The secretary of state during Obama’s administration has said at the time: “I could not believe that free aspirin and false teeth were more important than Britain’s role in the world.” Economist.

Britain had a very effective policy to maintain friendly relations with its former colonies, when Singapore was getting its freedom its income was highly dependant on the huge British naval base and a huge population of the island worked here. In 1960 before leaving the British government offered Singapore a loan of £50m, despite animosity it was accepted because without it the economy of Singapore would be in peril from the beginning.

To this day Singapore has been a loyal ally of Britain, the same strategy worked with Malaysia and Malta which were given £25m and £51m respectively for a period of ten years. During that time period Britain spend a total of £350m on the development of its former colonies.

This policy had positive results and British institutions and firms succeeded in winning businesses in these colonies. Britain successfully transitioned from the largest empire on earth to a democratic country and there is no reason to believe that the same policy can not be implemented before Brexit to achieve similar results.


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