Tag Archives: UK

How Britain Thrived With Europe, Faltered Without

Lindisfarne Priory off the Northumberland coast, United Kingdom. © Rhonda Surman 2009 via Flickr, Creative Commons

By Stephen Church
April, 2017

By triggering Article 50 to start Britain’s process of exiting the European Union, Prime Minister Theresa May launched the country into the unknown. History provides examples of Britain leaving Europe – and sometimes Europe leaving Britain – that help give some perspective on the events that are about to unfold. The clearest lesson of all is that the European mainland has been essential to Britain’s prosperity, and that when the relationship with Europe is poor, the lot of the ordinary Briton is poorer for it. The Conversation

Sometimes, for sure, contact with the continent has brought its problems. For example, the arrival of the Black Death on the shores of Britain from southern France in 1348. For the most part, however, Britain’s relationship with the continent between the arrival of the Romans and the end of the Middle Ages brought prosperity – when was nurtured by both parties. And there have been significant moments in Britain’s relationship with Europe when rupture with the mainland brought dire consequences.

For most people in Roman Britain, the departure of Roman government in 410 brought widespread economic hardship. The British historian, Gildas, writing from somewhere in the west of the island in the 5th century, entitled his work on the subject The Ruin of Britain. According to Gildas, when the Romans left, attacks by barbarians and pestilence followed.

The archaeological record shows that Gildas did not exaggerate the consequences of the retreat of Rome. In the fifth and sixth centuries, native Britons were no longer able to obtain their continental wares. Towns were abandoned, the economic power houses of the villa economy went into terminal decay, and the indigenous population underwent a sharp decline in its number.

Renewed prosperity

The beginnings of the return to prosperity had to await the Christian mission of Augustine and his followers in the 7th century, who reconnected the island with the mainstream of the continent. There was massive and permanent disruption which occurred in lowland Britain between 410 and the arrival of the Christian missionaries in 597. Only after the arrival of Augustine and his followers did the material culture of the Anglo-Saxons begin the long slow path of recreating the quality of what had been available to the British under Rome. Only when the Normans arrived in 1066 was Britain dragged into the mainstream of European political culture.

If we measure the wealth of a nation by the quality of the goods that its ordinary citizens can enjoy, then the period after 1066 was one in which growing specialisation and consumerism brought enormous wealth to Britain. People had more to spend and they had more to spend it on as the economy became increasingly commercialised. For ordinary men and women, trading and cultural connections to the continent gave them luxuries that their grandparents and great grandparents could have barely imagined.

Britain’s entry into the mainstream of Christian Europe also delivered important freedoms to ordinary men and women, the people about whom we hear so little in the historical sources but who, nonetheless, lived out their lives in the medieval world. After 1066, the Anglo-Saxons and Celtic peoples gradually stopped enslaving their own people and their captured enemies, and increasing wealth in the course of the next 300 years brought about a decline and then the end of serfdom.

The loss of the lands of the Angevins in France by King John in 1204 brought about a new, destructive relationship with Europe which lasted much of the rest of the Middle Ages.

A century of war

The United Kingdom is four nations in one, and was forged in the Middle Ages by war and blood as the English rulers sought to dominate their neighbours and to take from them their lands and resources. Wales effectively ceased to exist as a place of independence by 1283. Scotland survived independently, but at enormous cost in life, land, and resources, and Ireland was squashed beneath the heal of the oppressor.

All this misery was brought about because England entered a destructive phase in its relationship with Europe as it sought to replace European revenue by conquest at home, and then sought to take war back to the continent in a century-long drive to win control of the kingdom of France.

The 1346 Battle of Crécy during the Hundred Years’ War.
By Copiste inconnu via Wikimedia Commons

When England was at war with Europe, its citizens (and those of its European neighbours, let’s not forget) were poorer, its institutions smaller and narrower, its economic potential much reduced. While some historians have sought to find “good” in the impact of the Hundred Years’ War on England and its neighbours, just like modern-day Brexiteers on the retreat from Europe, this does not give the full picture. The impact of conflict with Britain’s European neighbours was catastrophic for everyone involved.

Whatever happens next in Article 50 negotiations, the lesson from Britain’s first 1,500 years is that the lot of the ordinary British citizen has been better when the British isles are working in harmony with their European neighbours. Here’s to hoping that May’s negotiators can keep Britain in the European loop even if outside the institution of the EU. The alternative is much less attractive.

Creative Commons

Stephen Church is a Professor of Medieval History, School of History, University of East Anglia. This article was originally published on The Conversation. Read the original article.


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Globalization: elite British golfers rue sale to Chinese investors

A practice green is seen next to the clubhouse of the Wentworth Club in Virginia Water, Britain, January 8, 2016. REUTERS/Peter Nicholls

A practice green is seen next to the clubhouse of the Wentworth Club in Virginia Water, Britain, January 8, 2016. REUTERS/Peter Nicholls

By Estelle Shirbon
January, 2016

Former club captain Michael Fleming poses by a portrait of Winston Churchill inside the clubhouse of the Wentworth Club in Virginia Water, Britain, January 8, 2016. REUTERS/Peter Nicholls

Former club captain Michael Fleming poses by a portrait of Winston Churchill inside the clubhouse of the Wentworth Club in Virginia Water, Britain, January 8, 2016. REUTERS/Peter Nicholls

LONDON (Reuters) – London has been cosying up to Beijing in recent years in the hope of attracting Chinese investment, but in one leafy corner of England the love-in has turned to acrimony.

Long-time members of Wentworth, a hallowed golf club in the affluent county of Surrey just west of London, accuse the new Chinese owners of using an eye-watering fee hike to get rid of them and turn the club into a preserve of the global ultra-rich.

The dispute has caused diplomatic ripples, with interventions from Britain’s Foreign Secretary Philip Hammond, who represents the local area in parliament, and from the Chinese embassy in London.

At issue is a plan by Beijing-based property and investment firm Reignwood Group, which bought Wentworth in 2014, that would require members to pay 100,000 pounds to remain part of the club and double maximum annual fees to 16,000 pounds.

“My own personal feeling is that they don’t want us,” said Michael Fleming, a local dental surgeon and Wentworth member for 28 years who has just ended a term as club captain. As for many members, the club has been central to his family’s social life.

The club says it plans to invest an initial 20 million pounds to improve facilities, with 10 million being spent in the next two years, as it pursues its vision to make Wentworth “the world’s premier private golf and country club”.

“We are absolutely clear on the important role the club plays within the community and we know that it has generated multiple friendships over the years. We very much want this to continue,” it told Reuters in an emailed response to questions.

Home to three 18-hole courses and to a striking crenellated clubhouse, Wentworth is famed throughout the golfing world for an old association with the Ryder Cup and as the venue for the annual BMW PGA Championship on the European Tour.

It has about 4,500 members, mostly wealthy locals with a smattering of British TV celebrities and professional sportspeople like former England cricketer Kevin Pietersen.

Men drink in the Burma Bar at the clubhouse of the Wentworth Club in Virginia Water, Britain, January 8, 2016. REUTERS/Peter Nicholls

Men drink in the Burma Bar at the clubhouse of the Wentworth Club in Virginia Water, Britain, January 8, 2016. REUTERS/Peter Nicholls



Fleming said he expected about 90 percent of members to leave the club if Reignwood’s changes come into force as planned in April 2017, and a significant number had already left.

One member of 18 years, who did not wish to give his name because he did not want public attention, said Wentworth was already exclusive by most people’s standards and he could not fathom what Reignwood were trying to achieve.

“If they do have this exclusive membership, the club is going to be like a morgue. There will be nobody there. One of the essential elements of a decent club is it has a certain amount of buzz about it,” he said.

In December, Fleming delivered a petition signed by over 500 Wentworth members to the Chinese embassy in London.

In a response seen by Reuters, embassy official Jin Xu wrote that Reignwood had “established itself as a responsible investor in the UK”, concluding that “the group has assured me that their plans for Wentworth Club will serve the long-term interest of its members and local community”.

But Hammond, writing in his capacity as the area’s member of parliament, described Reignwood’s plans as “very disappointing” in a letter to a club member.

Hammond has met twice with disgruntled Wentworth members and once with representatives of Reignwood to discuss the dispute.

“It is clear to me that a solution needs to be found … which preserves the great history of the club, delivers important new investment and retains the club’s position as a great UK sporting institution,” Hammond has said in a statement.

A barman stands behind the bar of the Cocktail Bar in the clubhouse of the Wentworth Club in Virginia Water, Britain, January 8, 2016. REUTERS/Peter Nicholls

A barman stands behind the bar of the Cocktail Bar in the clubhouse of the Wentworth Club in Virginia Water, Britain, January 8, 2016. REUTERS/Peter Nicholls


In China itself, golf is frowned upon as a symbol of Western values by the ruling Communist Party. In October, the party banned its 88 million members from golf club membership.

This has fuelled theories among the Wentworth community about what could lie behind Reignwood’s plans for their club, with some speculating that it would become a place for party cadres to enjoy a discreet round of golf during their travels.

Though confined to a small and well-heeled community, the conflict at Wentworth feeds into a wider debate in Britain over perceptions that prime assets are being sold off to foreigners who may not always have local interests at heart.

Concerns range from absentee Asian landlords snapping up London properties while residents face a housing shortage, to a perceived loss of national prestige and control as foreign firms take over storied British brands.

China is at the heart of the debate, with government critics voicing concerns over a plan to build a nuclear power station reliant on French technical expertise and Chinese money.

A Chinese firm owns the London Taxi Company, maker of the capital’s distinctive black cabs, and during a pomp-laden visit to London by President Xi Jinping in October it emerged that a Chinese retailer would take over world-famous toy store Hamleys.

At Wentworth, the dispute over what Reignwood euphemistically calls “the new membership structure” has fuelled strong anti-Chinese sentiment.

“Is this what the British people are to expect when the Chinese ‘invest’ in our country? We need to be more alert,” wrote a club member in one of dozens of similar comments handed over to the embassy at the same time as the petition.

The club said it was “extremely disappointed by any inference that members have been treated badly, which in turn is impacting on China’s image and image of Chinese investors in the UK”.

Copyright Reuters 2015

(Editing by Raissa Kasolowsy)

Related reading:

Class war returns, this time as a global issue, by Jonathan Manthorpe, International Affairs column

Many mature democracies, previously characterised by the broad social harmony that defines equitable societies, are being sucked into a new world order. We are entering a world in which most wealth, and with it political power, is in the firm grasp of a tiny minority of people who have acquired their status either by luck, imagination, skill, or — in far too many cases — feral instincts. This is a shift in the structure of human society with very real and unappetizing implications … read more.

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