June 6, 2022
Thank goodness for Queen Elizabeth’s Platinum Jubilee celebrations which provided temporary respite from the Ukraine war and America’s never-ending gun madness. But the festivities mark an end to an era and Her Majesty’s inevitable exit will worsen Britain’s identity crisis brought about as a result of Brexit. The decision to decouple from the European Union has eroded its geopolitical and economic standing. Its Prime Minister, and Brexit proponent, Boris Johnson, talks of a “Global Britain” but mostly sabre-rattles in Europe and Asia. A return to militarism is not a template to create an innovative and prosperous economy for the British which is what’s needed.
But instead of signing trade deals, Johnson inks defence agreements and exports weapons and troops around the world. He has negotiated a deal to build nuclear submarines for Australia, to patrol Canada’s empty Arctic, and supply weapons to various allies and Commonwealth countries. Britain’s military is as multi-national as it has been for centuries and now is attached to NATO; the Quad with Japan, India, Australia and the U.S.; AUKUS or a nuclear submarine pact in Asia with Australia and America; and a trilateral cooperative coalition with Poland and Ukraine.
By the way, Britain’s participation militarily is a welcome development. The world remains hostile and dangerous and the British have developed over the centuries a canny expertise in military affairs, geopolitical strategizing, and intelligence gathering. For instance, as war clouds gathered over Ukraine before Russia’s February 24 invasion and afterward, the British led the world by calling out Putin, warning the West, and imposing tough sanctions.
But the Queen’s Jubilee also represents a critical turning point for Britain. Its popular Monarch won’t live forever and the festivities mask the fact that Her Majesty’s institution is fraying. There’s the issue of succession and of past shenanigans by some members of the Royal family, notably Prince Andrew who’s been excused from Royal duties because of his association with convicted sexual abuser, the late Jeffrey Epstein. His older brother Prince Charles isn’t popular and his more highly regarded son William may wait years to become King. Then there has been the embarrassing rejection of the institution by the Queen’s grandson, Prince Harry and his American wife, Meghan Markle.
Scandals have bruised the Royal image and played a role, along with their excessively rich lifestyles, in the recent decision by Barbados, along with five other commonwealth countries a few years before, to decouple completely from the Monarchy. Some abolished the institution years ago, such as India and Pakistan, but most remain constitutional monarchies such as Canada and Australia. This month, however, Australians elected a new Prime Minister who is an anti-monarchist and may stage another referendum to boot out the institution altogether. An initial one, years ago, failed.
Canada is less worrisome, if only because a referendum would divide the country and resurrect its French-English issue. But polling is lukewarm which is why it was significant that, pre-emptively before the Jubilee, Prince Charles and his wife toured Canada to celebrate the Jubilee in an attempt to build support ahead of his transition to King.
Another hazard to the status quo lurks inside the “United” Kingdom itself in Scotland and Northern Ireland where separatists have retained and gained popularity since Brexit. Recent Scottish polls show between 55% and 45% in favour of leaving the U.K., mostly due to the negative fallout resulting from leaving the large European Union marketplace as well as disdain for Johnson’s political missteps at home.
For decades, the British Isles have benefited from three principal engines of economic growth: Trade with Europe; tourism; and financial services provided by and through London’s gigantic financial center with its offshoots around the world. But Russia’s war against Ukraine has bruised the reputation of its capitol, dubbed Londongrad, because of its role in welcoming, facilitating, and and legitimizing Putin’s odious oligarchy. And the continuation of massive trade with Europe is not a given.
Britain struggles with labor shortages since EU workers have left. And its exporters, fishermen and farmers aren’t happy, nor are consumers. Estimates before the war were that the economic downturn as a result of leaving the EU would slice 4 percent off the country’s GDP, more than double the cost of the pandemic. Exports fell by 21 percent in in 2021 across the board and now more than 60 percent of people think Brexit has either gone badly or worse than they expected. This includes 42 percent of people who voted to “Leave” in 2016.
But Boris Johnson’s principled stands toward Russia have shored up his support. His tough talk is backed up by centuries of fearsome military might and a current force not to be trifled with. It has nuclear weapons and one of the world’s five largest navies. And it remains a staunch ally of America’s, Europe’s, and Commonwealth nations. But Britain needs to carve a new economic path to prosperity to properly take care of its Subjects and remain the United Kingdom. Its history and values inspire and its Queen, now in her 70th year as monarch, has some an exemplary job maintaining stability and decorum. But Britain is not a superpower nor should it become a military for hire.
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