by Gabriele Bonafede
Few remember that on May 5th 2021 it will be 200 years since Napoleon’s death. It is an important date to remember, probably more so for British people than French. Unfortunately, fewer learn from history – especially Brexiteers.
The fall of the short-lived Napoleon’s empire on Europe actually began with the consequences of a foolish continental blockade on Great Britain – the so-called Continental System started in 1806 and doomed to fail within 1812.
Currently, a reversed copy of it seems to be taking place.
Brexit as a reversed copy of Napoleon’s trade blockade. A historical perspective
From a historical perspective, really does Brexit look as a partial reflection of Continental System (this time on the opposite direction, imposed by UK on Europe)?
To some extent, yes. It looks as a reversed copy of Napoleonic trade blockade because it comes from a strategic decision to leave the EU’s trading system globally. As such, Brexit is doomed to fail since the very beginning, although trading between UK and EU still exists. Post-Brexit border bureaucracy cannot be considered a full blockade as that of 1806. On the other hand, harm could be even tougher today for UK within the current – globally – competitive environment.
With Brexit, UK is in fact trying to reverse the same position by practically inflicting an implicit – although partial – “trade blockade” on EU. In doing so, Brexiteers are forgetting that at Napoleonic times global trade was led by the British Empire – no longer today. Europe in XXI century is in a much better position than it was in XIX century: wealthier, larger, more global and more outreaching than today’s Great Britain. That is true in many sectors, especially in the naval shipping system and even in the financial sector.
Furthermore, in 1806 Europe badly needed trading with all of British Empire’s international riches. Today, EU does not need trading with UK, whereas UK badly needs a profitable free trade with all Europe’s nations. This was obvious since long and it is more apparent today, after a few weeks of catastrophic Brexit implementation. Studies report that UK’s economy will shrink comparatively four times more than EU’s economy, thanks to Brexit.
Not surprisingly, Brexit is already proving a self-inflicted damage of huge proportions. Of course, Brexiteers are blaming EU about their own unwise strategic decisions. Which is exactly what Napoleon blamed on UK two hundred years ago, failing to recognize pure reality. Many Brexiteers tend to blame rather EU on imposing trade restrictions resulting by a cumbersome post-Brexit bureaucracy, yet these restrictions come precisely from Brexit and not from EU.
Brexit doomed to fail as a reversed copy of Napoleon’s trade blockade
The Napoleonic trade blockade failed economically and strategically. It became a recognized political and diplomatic failure when Russia decided to leave the Continental System in 1812. In fact, it was way too painful for XIX century Russia. Severing trading links with Great Britain and her global trading routes proved impossible and self-defeating for Russia and many other European countries of Napoleonic times. Today, we see that Scotland is experiencing the same situation as Russia did in 1806. Scotland is paying too much for Brexit.
Of course, the Napoleonic trade blockade of 1806 was harmful for all Europe, including France, Prussia, Austria, Italian states, etc. Just as today’s Brexit is harmful for the entire UK and not only Scotland.
Napoleon’s Continental Blockade madness was short lived: only six years. Brexit madness will be even shorter.
Cover: a screenshot from the TV miniseries “Napoleon” (1995)