If the British Empire had an ‘annus horribilis,’ a year it would rather forget, it would no doubt be 1956. In that year Britain along with France and “Israel” conspired to invade Egypt to seize the recently nationalized Suez Canal. Both the United States and the Soviet Union, the new superpowers of the age, stepped in to denounce the invasion, forcing the tripartite aggressors into a humiliating withdrawal. That watershed event saw both Britain and France demoted from the status of first-tier global powers and within less than a decade both of their imperial spheres no longer existed, at least on the pages of the world’s atlases.
For the following six decades, London was able to disguise the extent of its imperial decline through its ‘special relationship’ with the United States, into whose sphere the Empire was absorbed and recast as a system of (technically) sovereign and equal nation-states.
Since the June 2016 referendum on EU membership, however, the discourse of decline has forcefully reasserted itself, with the magnitude of the UK’s diminished standing in the world becoming increasingly apparent. Throughout the course of 2020, the economy’s worst year on record, national GDP experienced the deepest recession in 311 years.
A Crisis of its own Making
Covid-19 could hardly have appeared at a worse time for the British economy. February 1st, 2020 marked the point at which the UK, after a tortuous multi-year process, completed its withdrawal from the European Union following a bitterly contested referendum and years-long political struggle within both major parties to overturn the ‘Leave vote’ which resulted.
Both sides of the issue presented polar opposite predictions for what would become of Britain upon leaving the EU. What is clear is that the near-endless political uncertainty that resulted from the referendum has been the foremost negative effect of Brexit. Part of the City of London’s near-monopoly on the financial services industry has since been lost to centers such as Paris, Frankfurt, and Dublin.
In recent weeks, the consequences have begun to get far more serious and wide-ranging. The empty supermarket shelves warned off by the ‘Remaineers’ have become a fixture across the country, with supply chains on the verge of seizing up. Seven percent of firms were unable to meet their staffing and operating requirements in the last fortnight alone. Not since that year of post-imperial humiliation has manufacturing fallen…
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