Prior to the First World War, the United Kingdom used to be the world’s sole superpower with a third of the earth’s landmass colored pink on a map; yet if we were to fast forward over one hundred years later, we see a wind battered island on the the edge of the European continent with it’s back literally turned to its continental partners.
What was once the world’s first industrialised nation has now been deflated into a mediocrity in which social mobility remains stagnant, economic growth stays minimal, and a class-based society pits London against the rest of the country.
As the name suggests, the United Kingdom is a union of 4 nations; England, Scotland, Northern Ireland and Wales. Of these constituent parts, each nation has there own culture, languages and traditions that are often alien to one another, effectively making the United Kingdom a federation per se. English is by far the nation’s lingua franca, and was accordingly exported during the Age of Discovery, making a tremendous impact of international commerce, politics and communications. This has traditionally made the United Kingdom influential in handling international conflicts and garnering allies in times of crises; most notably the United States; for which it has been termed a “special relationship”. This relationship was most recently tested during the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan after the September 11th attacks in 2001, in which the United Kingdom became a junior partner in George W Bush’s “War on Terror”.
In the past decade however, the relationship was to be reinforced as “solid, not slavish”, as former British foreign secretary William Hague had described it in 2010. It was from this point that the retreat in British foreign policy became more apparent.
The notion of subordinance in British politics had become even more apparent particularly after the illustrious 2016 referendum on the country’s European Union membership; in which a divisive and ill-mannered debate had divided Britain into two. 51% of the voting public had opted to leave the European Union, citing an ever growing bureaucracy and uncontrolled immigration as the primary reasons behind their decision, on top of being forgotten by a liberal elite centred in Brussels and Strasbourg. Conversely, the remaining 48% voted to stay in political-economic bloc in order to remain members of the single market, and retain trading partners, as well as to influence pan-European legislation through their MEPS.
The result of this referendum had shaken British politics to the core, leading Prime Minister David Cameron to resign upon confirmation of Brexit, allowing for an incoming cabinet to which the withdrawal from the European Union would be succinct and seen to with a fresh pair of eyes.
Only just under a year after the referendum, Cameron’s successor Theresa May had called a snap general election with the hope of capitalising on a large lead in the opinion polls, but also to strengthen her hand at the Brexit negotiation table with a Conservative party landslide. May’s luck was to rapidly erode shortly after calling the election as her campaign was poorly stage-managed. A series of robotic press conferences, an ill-thought out manifesto, as well as the refusal to take part in televised debates made the prime minister appear distant and avoidant of the voting public. This was at variance with Labour party leader Jeremy Corbyn, who attracted large crowds of mainly young, left-wing idealist voters who had been previously disengaged with the political process.
The result of the election itself was a hung parliament; meaning that a majority of seats was not won by any party. As the May’s Conservatives has garnered the most seats, they were forced to make concessions to Northern Ireland’s Democratic Unionist Party (DUP) in order to fulfill a working majority; a move seen as controversial given that the DUP’s anti-abortion and homophobic views were not seen as progressive compared to other mainstream British parties.
The Future of the United Kingdom
Following the recent foreign, economic and political retreats from both the European and global stage, Britain is currently going through a period of isolation and withdrawal. Internally, the very idea of a ‘United Kingdom’ was nearly at risk following a Scottish independence referendum in 2014, and the political compass isn’t quite sure whether to face left or right, whilst externally, the world looks at how the repercussions of Brexit could result in a “Frexit”, “Nexit” or a “Grexit” in other European nations. The mere concept of “Rule Britannia! Britannia Rule the waves!” has become so eroded and so distant from their superpower days of empire, and it now seems that Britain’s leaders are now on their knees begging for trading partners and post-Brexit recognition.
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