What caused the 'Broken Britain' crisis?

By Tom Fowdy
0 Comment(s)Print E-mail China.org.cn, October 13, 2023
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People brave the rain on Westminster Bridge in London, Britain, on Aug. 2, 2023. [Photo/Xinhua]

Recently, reports have indicated that the U.K. is grappling with a "long list of problems," leading to the use of the term "Broken Britain." As the Conservative Party conference in Manchester concluded last week, Prime Minister Rishi Sunak found no relief in the polls for his government, trailing far behind the Labour Party. The event itself was marred by unpopular revelations, including his announcement that the High-Speed Rail 2 Project, known as "HS2," would be scaled back and not fully serve the north of England and Scotland as originally planned. This decision came as the project costs had soared to over $140 billion due to delays and mismanagement.

As a headline from CNN suggests, "Britain's high-speed rail fiasco reflects grim economic reality." The prevailing mood in the U.K. is squarely pessimistic. Inflation has reached alarming levels, with a BBC report indicating a 13.6% year-on-year increase in food prices and an overall 6.7% rise in the cost of goods, peaking at over 10% in 2022. Electricity and power bills have also surged. Overall GDP growth remains sluggish, and the U.K. continues to have one of the slowest-growing economies among G7 nations. The OECD's real growth forecast for 2023 stands at only 0.3%, and the IMF's forecast is only slightly higher at 0.4%. Similarly, the national debt stands at 2,537 billion pounds, which, according to the Office of National Statistics, stands at 100% of GDP.

This, coupled with crippling inflation, has dramatically suppressed consumption throughout the country and negatively impacted businesses, leading to the closure of numerous retail chains, thereby diminishing the vitality of the U.K. high street. For instance, the retail chain Wilkinsons collapsed at the end of September, resulting in the loss of 9,100 jobs. Earlier this year, the Bank of England's chief economist, Huw Pill, lamented that "we're all worse off, and we all have to take our share." Regrettably, the U.K. is becoming a poorer country, and it is the decision-making of those in charge that is contributing to the country's economic decline.

First, the British government has pursued a foreign policy that prioritizes ideology and nationalism over rationalism and pragmatism. This approach is a product of internal party strife within the Conservative Party, where right-wing rebels have sought to undermine practical policy realities in favor of imperialist nostalgia. The first consequence of this was, in fact, Brexit, where party rivalries culminated in a referendum on Britain's membership in the European Union, won by the right-wing faction. The empowerment of this Brexit faction, which brought figures like Liz Truss to the forefront, left the government with little room to compromise or backtrack, resulting in an outcome that severely damaged Britain's national interests and was seized upon by Boris Johnson's opportunism.

Second, despite the aftermath of Brexit and the proclamation of a "global Britain," the U.K.'s trade and investment relationship with China has been comprehensively harmed by the United States, which demanded that London adopt a tougher line on Beijing. Despite China being one of Britain's most promising and lucrative export markets, the U.S. manipulated public opinion through mainstream media and exploited issues like Hong Kong to drive a wedge in U.K.-China relations and consequently "end" the "golden era of relations." This is a position also embraced by right-wing rebels within the Conservative Party.

As a result, Britain is now attempting to frame itself as an "Indo-Pacific Power" and entering into agreements such as CPTPP that contribute little to the British economy. In doing so, the U.K. has made costly decisions against its own national interest to appease American preferences. For example, it excluded Huawei from its 5G network, a process that has driven up costs by billions and even resulted in outages. It also vetoed the takeover of a chip plant, the Newport Wafer Fab, by a Chinese-owned firm, which has now crippled the business and cost hundreds of jobs.

Third, Britain's decision to pursue an all-out escalation in the Ukraine crisis and block early attempts at peace between Moscow and Kyiv has had a catastrophic impact on the British economy and is the primary cause of food and energy inflation. The constriction of the global energy market inevitably drives up prices by limiting supply, inflicting significant harm on the U.K. This has particularly affected ordinary people, with many elderly individuals now suffering from "fuel poverty."

"Broken Britain" is the result of a cumulative series of destructive domestic and foreign policies led by a government that has aligned itself with nationalist populism, imperial nostalgia, and ideology, rather than practical governance. This chaotic decision-making approach has had long-term consequences for the British economy and, in the process, has made it susceptible to foreign interference that undermines the national interest.

Tom Fowdy is a British political and international relations analyst and a graduate of Durham and Oxford universities. For more information please visit: 


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