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Brexit and India: a light summer fantasy

The United Kingdom is leaving the European Union. But is it the UK? Isn’t it rather the English, taking with them the Scots and Northern Ireland? Scotland and Northern Ireland voted “No” to the question of leaving. That is a fact. A not too speculative guess predicts that Scotland will vote again on leaving Britain. A more speculative dream for some or a nightmare for others sees Scotland and possibly Northern Ireland leaving the United Kingdom and joining the EU on their own. Continuing on this speculative line, one can’t help remembering Britain’s great past. On the margins of most of the European continent’s medieval history, Britain soars up after 1600 to become the most successful imperial colonial power of modern times, “ruling the waves” around the globe, pushing aside the early global colonial powers Portugal and Spain from the Northern Hemisphere and “throwing out” the Portuguese, the Dutch and the French from the Indian subcontinent, adding, thus, India formally to the British Empire after crushing the most critical Grand Mutiny in 1857. Queen Victoria, the eternal British monarch of the 19th century, crowned Empress of India in 1877 (which she never visited!), became the symbol of one of the most amazing success stories in world history. Within three hundred years, Britain had risen from an unknown group of islands in the cloudy mist of the North Atlantic Ocean to the top of the world’s power pyramid counting colonies all around the globe, with India as the crown’s jewel. Smart rulers of the world, the British managed to dominate dozens of millions of Indians with just some 60’000 English soldiers at any time. Let us recall the whole breath-taking story of this, historically speaking, short-lived empire. Right after the zenith, World War I and II exhausted Britain’s economic and military reserves. Less than half a century after Britain’s zenith at Victoria’s death in 1901, India became independent, after it within some twenty years the rest of the British Empire. Britain gave the world its global “lingua franca”, the English language as an official language of innumerable countries of the world, including India. After having lost the essence of its empire and its role as a big world power, Britain joined the European Communities, turned later European Union, where it played the role of a big European power. Now it is about to relinquish even this and seems to be set to become England, as it was before 1600. And India is left with memories, for good or bad, of its past colonial power, while Britain, today, represents less than five percent of India’s population. What a story, what an irony! But yet, the biggest economic powers of today’s world, the EU, the USA, China, are wondering what impact Britain’s withdrawal from the EU will have on them and on the rest of the world. The Chinese, by nature, fear every turbulence and unpredictability. They had urged the British, not to leave the EU. Now that it is done, they fear a decline in European demand for Chinese industrial goods and pressure on their currency due to uncertainties with regard to the Euro and the British Pound. The more imaginative see positive prospects and the option of renegotiating trade treaties with the EU and Britain, or England! separately. And what is India’s leadership thinking and doing with this respect? Little transpires from Government offices. Possibly, they decide not to take decisions now. Possibly, they think that Brexit will not affect them much. Possibly, they are even right with that assumption. So far has common history of former colonial ruler and former colony split and separated! As if they had never met in history. Sounds a bit like a summer night’s dream. Or a fantasy turned reality.

4th July 2016 / Philippe Welti

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