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The EU NO. 5. Life after the EU - The second great Elizabethan Age?

By themaclean, Nov 8 2016 01:26PM

In 1597 we left the original European common market and became

the world’s largest trading nation.

The First Common Market was called the Hanseatic League. The word Hanse was a medieval German word for "guild," or "association."

The Hanseatic League was an organisation founded by north German towns and German merchant communities abroad to protect their mutual trading interests in 1356.

By the 16th century, the Hanseatic League had extended its economic influence from Italy to Russia and from Scandinavia to England. The modern equivalent of their trading area covers 20 European states.

The League primarily traded timber, furs, resin (or tar), flax, honey, wheat, and rye from the east to Flanders and England with cloth (and, increasingly, manufactured goods) going in the other direction. Metal ore (principally copper and iron) and herring came southwards from Sweden. These expanded over the years.

They established permanent commercial enclaves (Kontore) in a number of foreign towns, notably Bruges in Flanders, Bergen in Norway, Novgorod in Russia, and the Steelyard in London.

The Hanseatic League's aggressively protectionist trading practices often aroused opposition from foreign merchants.

The league typically used gifts and loans to foreign political leaders to protect its commercial privileges, and when this proved inadequate, it threatened to withdraw its trade and occasionally became involved in embargoes and blockades.

In extreme cases the league even resorted to war, as in the 1360s, when the Danish king Valdemar IV, tried to end the their economic control of the southwestern Baltic.

They raised an army and defeated the Danes decisively. In the Peace of Stralsund (1370) Denmark was forced to recognize the league's supremacy in the Baltic.

Such was the power of the league, that they had their own warehouses in dozens of their “client” cities, including London.

In London, this was known as the “Steelyard” and was located on the north bank of the Thames on the site is now covered by Cannon Street station.

Like other Hansa stations, this was a separate walled community with its own warehouses on the river, its own weighing house, chapel, counting houses, language and residential quarters.

In the 15th century, the German merchants began extending their reach into the cloth-making industry of England.

Not only did they control the price and distribution of English wool but eventually finished cloth through cloth-making centres in England, such as Colchester.

This led to constant friction over the legal position of English merchants in the Hanseatic towns and Hanseatic privileges in England, which repeatedly ended in acts of violence.

English merchants resented the Hanseatic League’s tight control of the wool and cloth trade in England and with the Baltic cities.

They urged the English crown to acknowledge their rights to participate in the Baltic trade. So, eventually in 1447, King Henry VI revoked all Hanse privileges.

In 1468 Hanse ships seized several English merchant vessels. Edward reacted by having the Hanseatic Steelyard trading base in London stormed and plundered.

Representatives of the Hanse cities met and decided to go to war with England. English wool imports were banned and privateers were ordered to raid English ports.

Hanse ships raided the English coast and didn’t spare neutral vessels. Unfortunately, Henry was embroiled with the Wars of the Roses and was eventually forced to conclude peace by the Treaty of Utrecht in 1474.

This re-established Hanse privileges and granted the League ownership of the London Steelyard, as well as other trading bases in Boston and Lynn. Consequently, hundred of English merchants were put out of business.

From the mid 16th Century, Dutch merchants aggressively challenged the Hanse and, after several naval skirmishes and wars, Amsterdam became the leading port for Polish and Baltic grain.

The prosperity of the Hanse merchants and their monopolist practices induced Queen Elizabeth I to expel the league in 1597. She had the Steelyard and those in Boston and Lynne closed in 1598.

Many feared that this would lead to economic disaster, as the Hanseatic League still controlled much trade throughout Europe.

I’m sure that the doom and gloom merchants of the day, many of whom were financially in league with the League, predicted disaster and economic collapse.

Who would we trade with, if not Europe? Where would we source materials and goods?

However, it had the very opposite effect. England had to look further afield. Elizabeth sought to replace lost trade from the Low Countries by seeking new markets and routes beyond Europe: to Asia, Africa and the Americas.

The rising maritime power of the Kingdom enabled England to search for new trade routes and to take over existing ones by force when necessary.

Elizabeth I's reign saw England transform from a small, parochial Kingdom dominated by European merchants and powers into a prosperous, international trader.

Queen Elizabeth II’s reign began with the UK virtually bankrupt and deep in debt - through no fault of its own. The US Lend-lease programme alone cost Britain $31.4 Billion (including $6.8 billion to cover costs for US bases in the UK), and we had a post-war debt of $1.075 billion.

We eventually recovered and have had many ups and downs. But we made the last payments of our WW2 debts to the US and Canada 2006. And, in 2015, we paid off last of our First World War debt of £1.9bn.

As we come to the end of the reign of the second Elizabeth, what will happen next?.

If we remain, are we likely to end up a small, parochial kingdom dominated by European merchants and powers as we were when Elizabeth I came to power?

UK exports of goods and services to non-EU countries have grown at a faster rate than imports, driven largely by services exports.

This has resulted in the UK running an overall trade surplus with non-EU countries (value of exports exceeds imports) over the past three years, which reached £27.8 billion in 2014.

This can and must be built upon. After all, looking at the bigger picture, what future does the EU offer?

According to Jean Claude Juncker, “the EU’s share of global output is falling and will soon represent just 15% of worldwide GDP, while 80% of growth is emerging from countries outside the European Union”.

Not only that, but Europe’s share of the world’s population has fallen from 20 % a century ago to 7% and could be just 4% by the end of this century. “We are demographically weakened, and will remain so,” added Mr Juncker.

So, what have we got to lose? It’s time to follow the first Elizabeth’s example and seek new markets and routes beyond Europe: to Asia, Africa and the Americas and beyond.

We wish Europe well. Good luck. You’ll need it. Contrary to what Little Europeaners claim, a vote to leave is a vote for internationalism, for freedom, for democracy.

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