Independence day.

AuthorPerry, Bill
PositionBritish vote to leave the European Union, consequences for Scotland and other parts of the British Commonwealth

Bill Perry is the Senior Partner of Carter Perry Bailey LLP a boutique (re)insurance and commercial litigation firm in the City of London. President of IADC in 2011-12, he was also President of Insuralex (the global insurance law firm network) in 2012-14. Bill's MA is from Oxford University. He qualified as a solicitor (Honours, top I%) at Norton Rose, was Senior Partner of Pickering Kenyon (the oldest firm in England) and then Head of Litigation & Dispute Resolution at Charles Russell. Bill has been rated in Chambers UK, the Legal 500, Who's Who Product Liability Defence, and Insurance and Reinsurance, and Citywealth Leaders List over many years, is a Superlawyer and has been rated one of the top 100 lawyers in London by Thomson Reuters.

This article originally appeared in the August 2016 International Committee newsletter.

THERE is a relatively small island (a bit smaller than Oregon) off the North West corner of the continent of Europe. Having been populated by a wave of immigrants at a time when it was still joined to that continent, in about 6,000 BC the land bridge which joined them was destroyed by a combination of rising seas levels and the Storegga Slide. Since that time, about 20 miles of water has separated it from the continent.

For the first 6,000 years of that separation, it was left alone, though it traded a bit with the nearest country on the continent, eventually named Gaul. In 55 BC, it was temporarily invaded by a Roman aggressor called Julius Caesar. Having failed to achieve his objectives, he returned in 54 BC to have, literally, another bash. He left again the same year.

Finally, the Britons having remained both annoying and apparently resource-rich, the same aggressive power, by then the Roman Empire under the Emperor Claudius, in 43 AD invaded and conquered the country they named Britannia. Even then, Rome's success was not complete: the country rebelled under a forceful female leader in 61 AD (unsuccessfully). Having not tried very hard and then abandoned attempts to conquer the extreme north of the island, the Romans under the Emperor Hadrian built a wall (about 30 miles south of the eventual English/Scottish border) to keep out the Picts; in 142 AD they built another one further north, between the Firth of Forth and the Firth of Clyde (as they now are) but in 158 AD they reverted to the original plan. (They never tried to conquer the other, rather smaller, island to the west.)

About 350 years after the occupation began, in 410 AD, the British expelled the magistrates of usurping Roman Emperor Constantine III. The true Roman Emperor, Honorius, responded that they were on their own again. There followed 650 years largely of isolation from the continent again, marked however by a series of invasions, perhaps most famously by the Angles (who changed the name of the bit they had conquered) and Saxons, but also a bit later some Norsemen and Danes. Between them the Anglo-Saxons brought a habit of holding 'moots' both local and national to do justice and hear and decide grievances.

In 1066 AD, following the death of the King of what by then had been transmuted from "Angleland" to "England", one William the Bastard, the then Duke of Normandy (so called because it is populated by Norsemen who moved in at about the same time as some of them followed the Anglo-Saxons into England), made good a somewhat dubious claim to the throne of England by invading and conquering it--and was duly renamed William the Conqueror by his fair-minded subjects. Within the next 200 years, the Kings of England had, with the blessing of Pope Alexander III, taken over a perennially rebellious Ireland. They had also conquered the Principality of Wales and absorbed it into the nation-state of England.

The island has never been invaded since (unless one counts a quick trip by the Dutch in 1688 AD to assist the English, Scots and Welsh in installing William of Orange (William III) and his wife, Mary, as Protestant monarchs, kicking out the Catholic King James II/VII). This was mainly thanks to a great navy created and led by men like Drake, Pepys, St Vincent, Nelson and Jellicoe, as well an army led by men like Richard the Lionheart, Edward III, Henry V, Marlborough and Wellington.

In 1603, the Scots (who had taken over from the Picts north of the border) kindly allowed their King James VI also to become James I of England (and James I of Ireland). After all, as James himself put it: "Hath He not made us all in one island, compassed with one sea and of itself by nature indivisible"? Scotland and England were formally united in 1707, and union with Ireland was effective on January 1, 1801. Despite vicissitudes which mean that the United Kingdom now only includes Northern Ireland, rather than the whole of Ireland (though any Irish citizen can still vote in the UK), that remains (literally--the relevant laws are still in force) the position.

During this time, England developed its own language (a curious amalgam of Anglo-Saxon, ancient British, a bit of Latin, a bit of Norman French and so on, which has proved remarkably flexible and adept both at absorbing words from any other language and inventing new ones), its own legal system (based on ancient customs, principles and above all precedent rather than sticking with Roman law and trying to create all-encompassing codes), its own system of governance (involving the idea that even the King was subject to the law, and even his subjects had their own rights and freedom, as well as the idea that the King could not levy taxes without the consent of the Commons) and its own religion (Protestant, rather than either Catholic or

Lutheran/Calvinist). Some of these developments were happy accidents arising from rather unglamorous roots (such as the Protestant Church) but others, such as Magna Carta (1215 AD) and Simon de Montfort's Parliament (1265 AD) came about because they were thought to be right and had roots in Anglo-Saxon customs. These all pervaded Wales and strongly influenced both Ireland (except for Protestantism) and Scotland. They made England, and the UK, different from the nations on the European continent.

The purpose of this brief history is simply to indicate that the inhabitants of these islands are on the whole an independent, even insular, bunch. They have intra-family disputes, which can...

To continue reading

Request your trial

VLEX uses login cookies to provide you with a better browsing experience. If you click on 'Accept' or continue browsing this site we consider that you accept our cookie policy. ACCEPT