Brexit: Charlemagne vs. ‘Rule Britannia!’

What Brexit makes clear is that the British want their country back. They believe their beloved and ingrained notion of ‘Britishness’ being threatened in Europe elicited reactions from those who have had enough of the ruling class dictating the terms of success, power, and control.

By Monica Morrill | June 27, 2016


Countless hours and taxpayers’ money have been spent on attaining the European experiment and creating a European identity, a united political culture – the European Union.

This union – commonly known as the EU – has failed with the British for one simple reason: the Europeans on the continent don’t understand British history. The British identity is necessarily bound in not being European.

Here are historic examples: around 60 A.D., the British under Queen Boudica of the British Celtic Iceni rose up against the Roman occupation; in the 8th and 9th centuries, while Charlemagne was uniting regions on the European continent the Vikings were invading, the British pushed back; then, there was the Battle of Hastings in 1066, the defeat of the Spanish Armada in 1588, and the steadfastness against the London raids by the Germans during World War II and ultimate victory for the British.

Under each case the British have distinguished themselves and declared that they are independent of any foreign power.  When the invaders and their descendants who were successful, like William the Conqueror, they morphed into being British, having been entranced by England’s highly refined identity.

Below are the lyrics of a patriotic song derived from a poem and set to music in 1740, ‘Rule, Britannia!’ Hence, before King George III lost the colonies in America, before the Napoleonic Wars, ‘Rule Britannia!’ was and is still sung by the British, although now usually in the Royal Navy and Army, at the end of The BBC Proms, and especially when they’ve had too much to drink. One must read the entire song to fully comprehend what Brexit truly means in the 21st century:


When Britain first, at Heaven’s command

Arose from out the azure main;

This was the charter of the land,

And guardian angels sang this strain:

“Rule, Britannia! rule the waves:

“Britons never will be slaves.”


The nations, not so blest as thee,

Must, in their turns, to tyrants fall;

While thou shalt flourish great and free,

The dread and envy of them all.

“Rule, Britannia! rule the waves:

“Britons never will be slaves.”


Still more majestic shalt thou rise,

More dreadful, from each foreign stroke;

As the loud blast that tears the skies,

Serves but to root thy native oak.

“Rule, Britannia! rule the waves:

“Britons never will be slaves.”


Thee haughty tyrants ne’er shall tame:

All their attempts to bend thee down,

Will but arouse thy generous flame;

But work their woe, and thy renown.

“Rule, Britannia! rule the waves:

“Britons never will be slaves.”


To thee belongs the rural reign;

Thy cities shall with commerce shine:

All thine shall be the subject main,

And every shore it circles thine.

“Rule, Britannia! rule the waves:

“Britons never will be slaves.”


The Muses, still with freedom found,

Shall to thy happy coast repair;

Blest Isle! With matchless beauty crown’d,

And manly hearts to guard the fair.

“Rule, Britannia! rule the waves:

“Britons never, never, never will be slaves.”

So, with the European Union, the Europeans and others have overlooked the power of ‘Rule, Britannia!’  The British still refer to ‘Europe’ as “that other place,” disconnected from the British.  Simply put, the British view themselves as British, not European.

Or, in contemporary context, Brexit could be summarized as a single British thought:  What self-proclaimed genius idea is trying to rule us this time?  The European Union and Brussels?  Not if we have a voice or vote!

Here is the irrational road that politicians and bureaucrats have forced the British to follow.

The EU began without the United Kingdom in 1951 under the Treaty of Paris.  Initially six countries formed the European Coal and Steel Community (ECSC).  The ECSC then evolved to the European Economic Community (EEC) under the Treaty of Rome in 1957 and that is known as the European Union today.

From the ECSC up until British membership the United Kingdom – England, Scotland, Northern Ireland, and Wales – actually belonged to the European Free Trade Association (EFTA).  EFTA currently has four members – Iceland, Lichtenstein, Norway and Switzerland.

Then by 1973, under Conservative Prime Minister Edward Heath, the United Kingdom joined the EEC. To Margaret Thatcher and most of the British it was clearly understood that the British were joining a Common Market to have greater access to Europe economically, with some political commitments. Military involvement was already through NATO and the WEU (Western European Union).

The path continued.

Thatcher in the 1960s supported the Conservative Party line on the EEC with reservations, but by 1976 she became more suspicious by demands, “I cannot play Sister Bountiful to the Community [EEC] while my own electorate is being asked to forgo improvements in the fields of health, education, welfare and the rest.” Charles Moore her authoritative biographer, highlighted that the seemingly constant rows, especially about the EEC budget “confirmed in Thatcher a constant irritation, even a deeper resentment, at the way the EEC worked” and in giving feedback “she would scribble exclamations of exasperation…the encounter with the EEC was a series of mostly unpleasant surprises in which she discovered that more powers had been ceded than she had realized.” She did not see the EEC as it evolved into the EU as the “practical intention” of a United States of Europe.

If joining the EEC meant ‘power-sharing’ to the Labour Prime Minister Harold Wilson (1974-1976), under the Labour Prime Minister Tony Blair (1997-2007) the British involvement in the European experiment was deepening, ‘pooling sovereignty’ from EU Member States – a very different development. In between the Labour governments there were outbursts of mixed feelings from Conservatives. Many felt that more power to the EEC or EU wasn’t what the first British referendum in 1973 was really about; Britain was drifting from its economic intentions and commitments to the British people.

It’s not entirely clear whether the British decision to leave was because of increasing economic costs, immigrants and refugees, lack of political accountability and control, an official European military, or a combination of these burdens. Geographically and culturally the destiny was set thousands of years ago.

What Brexit makes clear is that the British want their country back. They believe their beloved and ingrained notion of ‘Britishness’ being threatened in Europe elicited reactions from those who have had enough of the ruling class dictating the terms of success, power, and control.

Monica Morrill is a Geographer focusing on government regulation and policies. She co-authored the book BETRAYED: The Shocking True Story of Extortion 17 as told by a Navy SEAL’s Father. Ms. Morrill is also a contributor to SFPPR News & Analysis.