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Boris Johnson’s yearning for another "British Empire": Brexit has destroyed UK economy

"The conservative experiment since 1979 has failed"

… another conservative goes down

Some political commentators have blamed the failure of former Prime Minister on his never-ending scandals. The truth, however, is more complex.

Johnson came in when fellow conservative Theresa May could not deliver on the Brexit deal to leave the European Union. Johnson did, and history will leave that as his devastating legacy.

The British economy has suffered as have many in the world because of Covid, but it was Brexit and the woeful damage it caused to the country that brought him down and led to the conservative revolt.

Like so many conservative failures as PM since Margaret Thatcher, he will go down in history because of the failure of conservatives in the UK.

History will point to Brexit

A former editor has pointed out what many in Britain are ignoring in the wake of Johnson’s resignation,

Over the past few days, commentators have endlessly hashed out the proximate causes for the downfall of soon-to-be ex-Prime Minister Boris Johnson. The police fined him for attending parties at 10 Downing Street that violated his own pandemic rules. He lied about what he knew about an alleged sexual harasser he had promoted to an important job in Parliament. And those were just a few of his most recent breaches of long-accepted norms. During Johnson’s three years in office, his flagrant disregard for propriety prompted two of his own ethics advisers to quit.

In historical terms, however, those transgressions will end up being little more than footnotes. Viewed from afar, Johnson’s greatest failing is liable to be what he hoped would be his glorious legacy: Brexit. Johnson was for years Brexit’s biggest cheerleader. In December 2019, his Conservative Party won a landslide election under the battle cry of “Get Brexit Done.” And he did:

Less than two months later, Britain left the European Union. The problem for Johnson is that Brexit is doing serious and lasting damage to the British economy.

With the effects of the pandemic fading, the scarring caused directly by Brexit is increasingly plain to see. At the Port of Dover, the busiest roll-on, roll-off ferry crossing in Europe, truck drivers subject to controls that haven’t existed for nearly 50 years sometimes wait half a day to continue their journeys. Modeling by the Centre for European Reform found that solely because of Brexit, British trade in goods was down during the first half of last year, ranging between 11 and 16 percent. “There is evidence that businesses face new and significant real-world challenges in trading with the EU that cannot be attributed to the pandemic,” the House of Lords European Affairs Committee reported in December.

Stryker McGuire, “Boris Johnson’s biggest failing?” It’s the

post-Brexit economy,” Washington Post, July 7, 2022

The great conservative revolution has failed

As some commentators have noted, the start of the reign of Margaret Thatcher in 1979 was called a Conservative Revolution, but it has failed. Johnson’s Brexit fixation is just the latest in those failings,

If there’s an economic silver lining to Brexit, researchers scouring the data have yet to find it. “A less-open UK will mean a poorer and less productive one by the end of the decade, with real wages expected to fall by 1.8 per cent, a loss of £470 [$564] per worker a year, and labour productivity by 1.3 per cent,” according to a June report by the London School of Economics Centre for Economic Performance and the Resolution Foundation.

Inflation hit 9.1 percent in May, a 40-year high, and is expected to reach 11 percent before the end of the year; some experts cite Brexit as a major contributing factor. The overall tax burden is rising to its highest level since the postwar era, as is government spending. Citing these factors, the Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development last month predicted that British economic growth will grind to a halt next year, likely making it the worst-performing economy in the Group of 20 — aside from Russia.

The pound has been steadily weakening against the dollar since the Brexit referendum; the depreciation translates into a cost-of-living hike of £870, or $1,044, per year for the average household. Panmure Gordon & Co., a London-based investment bank, estimates that business investment is roughly £58 billion, or $69 billion, a year lower than it would have been if Britain had not left the European single market and customs union. While Britain has managed to negotiate a smattering of trade deals, most of them relatively insignificant, it has made zero progress on its chief goal, a U.S.-U.K. pact.

Stryker McGuire, Washington Post, July 7, 2022

Return of the British Empire?

The Irish are thrilled to see Johnson go because they are part of the EU. Scotland, which may desire to leave the 21st Century “British Empire,” is also happy.

However, the failing of Johnson who vowed to return the country to its empire days is simply one of sadness. Since the end of World War II when voters sent another conservative, Winston Churchill, packing, the reality has dawned that the only country that may remain in the “empire” is the U.S. itself,

Historical reversals are hard to swallow, especially when a magnificent past is suddenly swapped with an ordinary present. To some extent, the psychodrama at the heart of Brexit reflects the inability on the part of the British establishment to come to terms with the diminished global role associated with the loss of the British Empire. Hardcore Brexiteers like Prime Minister Boris Johnson anchor their expectations for a bright future away from the European Union to a revival of the imperial past. They speculate about the emergence of an Anglosphere, centered on the United Kingdom and linked to the United States and Britain’s other former colonies.

This is not the first time that London has floated the ideal of Anglo-Saxon solidarity to reinvent its role in a less conquerable world.

Unlike other empires, the British one did not collapse abruptly after a clash with a rising power. Its demise was gradual and, in many instances, peaceful and amicable. That made it easier for the country to preserve the economic, and sometimes military, relationships between the former mother country and the ex-colony. At the same time, the British elite took advantage of the slow imperial dissolution to effectively reposition their country within the international system.

Eduardo Campanella, “A Diminished Nation in Search of an Empire,” Foreign Policy, 2019

Now, where does the U.K. go? To the realization that their Brexit dreams have failed, and that the move to leave the EU was a terrible idea.

That the conservative failures in economic matters have been an abysmal failure in the UK, as they have been in America.

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