By: Swara Salih 

The political underpinnings of the prequels never cease to fascinate me. One instance that is especially pertinent, as I’m now writing from the UK., is the formation of the Confederacy of Independent Systems between Episodes I & II. This week, Great Britain, in an historical referendum with far reaching consequences, voted to leave the European Union (EU). Is Britain an outlier, or the first domino to fall in a wave of voter discontent that has characterized 2016 for the western world?

SeparatistSenate-HOBS The Confederacy of Independent Systems convenes (The Clone Wars TV series) 

The EU and the Old Republic are similar, despite being on literally cosmically different scales. Both are multi-government systems united by the prospect of facilitating free trade and commerce between borders. The Republic expanded not through force, but by pulling outlier systems in with the promise of trade with the Core Worlds. While the EU began with the express intent of preventing another continental war, having just come out of World War II, it started with these same economic underpinnings. West Germany, France, Italy, the Netherlands, Belgium, and Luxembourg signed the Schuman Plan, which established a single-authority to control the production of steel and coal in Europe, thereby ensuring that none of the member countries could make weapons of war to use against each other, as they did in the recent past. Eventually this led to the signing of the Treaty of Rome in 1957, which established the European Economic Association (EEC), which aimed to create a common market for its member through the elimination of most existing trade barriers and the establishment of a common external trade policy. It eventually allowed for all internal tariffs to be removed by July 1968, allowing for the free flow of goods and services throughout the continent, massively boosting the economies of its member states. Eventually, member states signed the Schengen agreement in 1985, which enabled passport-free movement across most of the EU; the UK is not a signing member of this agreement but has still had immigration from Europe due its membership to the EU’s Single Market, which solidifies the EU’s economic unity with free movement of goods, services, and workers. 

Initially, the UK declined the invitation to sign the treaty. In 1961, however, seeing its own economy falling behind and France and Germany doing well in their post-war recovery, they changed their mind, and applied to be part of the EEC in 1961. French President Charles de Gaulle vetoed their attempted entry twice accusing Britain of “deep-seated hostility” towards European construction. However,  Ironically, the UK entered the EU through a referendum as well in 1975, with over 67% of voters choosing to enter the union. However, Britain’s relationship with the EU has always been tumultuous, with vigorous debate on what exact form the relationship should take.

This dichotomy of wanting to remain in the EU and have it be on Britain’s exact terms might be best represented in Margaret Thatcher, the UK’s first female Prime Minister. She had played a key role in the 1975 referendum vote to get Britain into the EU. However  during her premiership, she repeatedly decried the development of a “European super state” that would, in her view, impose excessive regulation and taxation on Britain. The buildup of this rhetoric, wage stagnation for working class Britons, anti-immigration sentiment, and perception of corruption in the EU helped lead to the result we saw on Friday. At least one of these arguments had some weight, as analysts have pointed out that corruption in certain EU countries, like Romania, Bulgaria, and Croatia, cost the EU up to £800 billion/year (this is 6.3% of the EU’s total GDP). Likewise, systems that would eventually form the Separatist Alliance, particularly the Trade Federation who “disputed the taxation of trade routes,” were loathe to comply with the Republic’s taxations and regulations, seeing these as an infringement on their sovereignty and ability to conduct business. The Republic’s obviously increasing corruption bolstered this argument. Episode I attempted to display this discontent with, in my view, an extreme measure: the blockade and subsequent Invasion of Naboo. While the execution could have used more finesse, George Lucas successfully conveyed the chaos that could arise from built-up frustrations with inherent deficiencies in international (or in this case intergalactic) economic unions.

sep-alliance-1_ee7172d6 Count Dooku and the Seperatist Council (Attack of the Clones)

And we’re seeing some of this chaos now with Britain’s recent vote to leave the EU. Citizens in the UK and the rest of the world are in shock, and markets are already feeling the effects, as this could have massive implications for global trade. On Friday, after the final results came in, US stock markets fell their hardest in ten months, the British pound fell to its lowest level in more than 30 years, and Scotland, whose population overwhelmingly voted to stay in the EU, made a push for a second independence referendum. While it is far beyond the realm of thought that the EU would wage a war to get the UK back in the union (in fact EU leaders want them gone as soon as possible to deter further economic uncertainty) as the Republic did with the Separatists, the parallels of instability are palpable. Both entities’ (the UK and the Separatists) actions have far-reaching consequences not just for themselves, but the economic unions in which they took part.

Both the UK and the Separatists wanted to “take back economic control” by being freed from the billions of pounds/credits each entity had to pay to their respective unions, and in doing so created massive economic and political uncertainty. While it is just one “system” voting to leave the EU, as opposed to the thousands of Separatist worlds, both have had massive reverberations. For the Republic, which is a fully formed government with the ability to enact regulations of all kinds on its member systems, the outlawing of slavery being one example, a multitude of systems exiting put its entire structure at risk. The EU, being mostly an economic league, has overall much less to lose, but because it is so entwined with the global economy, any change of membership it endures runs risks for the world at large.

While it was clear that the formation of the Separatist Alliance was disastrous for the Galactic Republic, interestingly Britain’s exit from the EU could simultaneously strengthen and weaken the Union. While there will likely be call for referenda in other EU countries on their membership, some analysts say this could result in a stronger, more united EU with France and Germany at the center, with the UK, often a dissenting voice, out of the picture.

EU proponents in the UK lost the referendum because they had, in effect, lost touch with working class British voters who, without a full understanding of how the UK worked, who blamed the EU in part for their lack of economic opportunity. They wanted to take a jab at the political elites whom they deemed to be corrupt, selfish, and indifferent to their grievances. Likewise Count Dooku was able to rally star systems to join his cause by pointing to the deeply embedded corruption in the Senate that was unable to pass even the most basic laws. The EU and the Old Republic may be very different systems of governance, but both of these crises convey the great degree of economic and political fallout that can occur when multilateral systems of government break apart. Perhaps both needed to create more safeguards against this event, or do more to foster better understanding between rival political factions.

This was written by Swara Salih!

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