How the Battle of Trafalgar triggered a 19th-century Brexit

tags: Brexit, Battle of Trafalgar

Martin Robson, Lecturer in Strategic Studies, University of Exeter

Every year around this time, Britain’s Royal Navy hosts a dinner: there is good beef, fine port and chocolate ships are decked out with bunting and sparklers. October 21 2016 marks the 211th anniversary of the Battle of Trafalgar, fought between the Royal Navy and the combined navies of France and Spain. 

Trafalgar was one of the most significant naval battles fought under sail, and the annual Trafalgar Night Dinner in London is a highlight of the Royal Navy’s social calendar, celebrating Admiral Lord Horatio Nelsonand his famous victory. 

But some common myths should be dispelled. While a crushing victory for the Royal Navy, Trafalgar was not the reason that the French emperor, Napoleon Bonaparte, gave up his plan to invade the British Isles. More decisive was his desire to browbeat Austria in 1805 combined with a naval action fought by Admiral Robert Calder on July 22 which had prevented Napoleon’s fleet from entering the English Channel.

In that sense, Trafalgar only reinforced an existing strategic situation. In the short term, what followed for Britain was a period of strategic isolation from Europe. Napoleon crushed Austria in 1805, Prussia in 1806 and forced Russia into peace talks (on Napoleon’s terms of course) in 1807. 

In 1806, Britain and the French empire engaged in economic warfare which saw British trade largely excluded from European markets. Britain was politically and economically isolated at a time when fighting Napoleon was ever more expensive, with the cost of the war spiralling from £29m in 1804 to over £70m in 1813. 

It was a sort of Brexit Mark I. The situation was bleak. What could British policy makers do? ...

Read entire article at The Conversation

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