Out of place: Editorial on United Kingdom’s political situation
Months of cascading political chaos in the United Kingdom culminated onThursday in the resignation of the country’s prime minister, Boris Johnson. A stream of resignations from his ministerial colleagues over the preceding 48 hours precipitated matters for Mr Johnson. The immediate trigger for the crisis was the revelation that the government defended the former deputy chief whip, Chris Pincher, after he admitted to groping two men, despite Mr Johnson being aware of serious prior allegations of sexual misconduct against Mr Pincher. But in truth, Mr Johnson has been skating on thin ice for months, even as Britain has appeared to be in almost terminal decline since its divorce from Europe. He won a historic election in 2019 — the biggest victory for the Conservative Party since Margaret Thatcher — promising to execute Brexit. After multiple stumbles, Britain and the EuropeanUnion finally agreed on a separation deal just in time. But by then, the damage from the move was becoming apparent, with the gross domestic product and per capita incomes suffering. The result? Polls suggest that significantly more British citizens today believe that Brexit was a mistake than those who believe it was right to leave the EU.
Within Britain, it is not Brexit but the soaring cost of living that has robbed Mr Johnson of public support. Making things worse, he has been at the centre of a series of embarrassing controversies —from allegations of overspending on his living room to suggestions that he participated in drinking parties during the pandemic while advising ordinary citizens to observe lockdowns. That none of his colleagues— who were also rivals for the post of prime minister — truly challenged him until now underscores how leading Britain is today in many ways a poisoned chalice. Its government touts Brexit as its biggest achievement at the same time as claiming that it believes in a ‘Global Britain’. It seeks megadeals with economies like India when it cannot iron out differences with the EU over sausage exports from Northern Ireland and with France over fishing rights. The former colonies want to get rid of the Queen as their head of state and Scotland’sleaders are pushing for independence through a fresh referendum. With his unkempt hair and ill-fitting clothes, Mr Johnson’s rise was an appropriate metaphor for the casual manner in which Britain’spolitical class has fuelled its fall. Appearances matter, and at the moment, Britain does not look too good.