No deal Brexit preparations: Dutch look closely but don’t see much (Part 1)

Whoever looks at British-Dutch relations, especially in trade and food (herring), you see a relationship dating back to the Roman Empire, with the Frisians (a tribe in the North of the present Netherlands) kicking off the chain of English/British-Dutch relationships. 

The modern relations can be traced back to the British-Dutch anti-Spanish alliance of queen Elizabeth I (sending over her confidant Leicester) in the Treaty of Nonsuch (1585; see Jonathan Israel’s book about the Dutch Republic; Clarendon/Oxford University Press; Oxford, 1995, p. 218-230). This treaty was implicit recognition of the Republic; and the shenanigans between Leicester and the Dutch stadholder and his minister Oldebarnevelt in 1585-87 gave definite form to the Republic, until then a confederation of rebel provinces. It ended up with Leicester returning home; but Nonsuch was reinforced and broadened in the 1598 Treaty of Westminster.

The Low Countries’ principalities trading with England (Flanders, Zeeland, Holland, Friesland) were all smaller than England, and this didn’t change with seven rebel provinces forming a republic; especially because shortly afterwards, under king James I, the union between England and Scotland started being formalized until the Acts of Union (1707). So the Dutch and Flemish peoples are used to look very closely what happens in their big neighbor  the UK, especially as it affects our (Dutch) trade relations (re-exporting a large part to the rest of the EU), and our and their national economy. The UK is around three to four times bigger than the Netherlands if you look at our populations and economies (GDP).

The hard Brexiteers around Boris Johnson are emphasising, now that a No Deal Brexit on their holy grail date of 31st  October seems ever more likely, that the British government is even better prepared than under the March Brexit deadline. 

We Dutch simply don’t believe them, because we see at best a piecemeal, halfhearted if not comically incompetent British preparation (hiring a shipping company without ships, aiming to disembark at a British port city that on BBC TV News does look more disheveled that well-prepared for intensive disembarkation operations).

In my LDV piece of February 27th 2019  I talked about one of the two times trade between us and the UK was cut off: Napoleons “Continental System”-blocking of all that trade in (1806-) 1810-13, delivering the final, very fatal blow to the Republic as flourishing trade power in Europe. I could have added the German cutoff of 1940-’45, the second time, with even more disastrous results.

I also talked about the big campaign by the Dutch government, aimed at small and medium entrepreneurs especially, to get prepared for a Brexit on the terms of May’s deal; that campaign also contained dire warnings of what an eventual, still possible No Deal Brexit could entail.

 Having daily viewed the BBC TV 6 and 10 o’clock news and Newsnight (and looked at the BBC News website and online Guardian), for the past 3 years; I can’t remember anything about a similar British preparation operation, governmental or otherwise…

* Bernard Aris is a Dutch historian (university of Leiden), and Documentation assistant to the D66 parliamentary Party. He is a member of the Brussels/EU branch of the LibDems.

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