Britain’s political turmoil is shattering its pragmatic image

LISBON, Portugal (AP) — When the United Kingdom left the European Union two years ago, Brexiteers believed that British pragmatism and common sense would not only see them through, but allow their country to flourish on its own.

That self-image was, many felt, part of British exceptionalism, part of the national brand.

Events over the past 12 months, with three British prime ministers occupying 10 Downing Street after Liz Truss resigned on Thursday after just 45 days in office, have shattered that image.

“There is no doubt that the UK’s position in the world has been seriously damaged (by Truss’s resignation) and by the revolving door of prime ministers,” said Bronwen Maddox, director of international affairs think tank Chatham House.

“For the UK to regain respect – and an image of trustworthiness – it must soon acquire another, a person capable of putting policy into action,” Maddox added.

Years of political turbulence followed the UK’s referendum on leaving the other 27 EU countries. British politics descended into warring factions, and the Truss interim administration was perhaps the high point of that turbulent period.

A recent British story left some shaking their heads. Former Swedish Prime Minister Carl Bildt tweeted after Truss’s resignation: “Downhill from Brexit. But tragically tragic for a great nation.”

Maddox, of Chatham House, said Brexit was a seismic event, which had caused “a huge shock to the country’s position in the world” and left diplomats in London scratching their heads.

“That is not their image of Britain, which they have seen for years as a beacon of stability,” she said.

Great Britain’s attempt to redefine itself has gone awry. Far from the name Cool Britannia of 25 years ago, the country is now often referred to as Broken Britain.

Britain’s next leader includes mending strained diplomatic and economic ties with the EU, its biggest trading partner, as part of a wider effort to restore the government’s credibility and trustworthiness.

Post-divorce antagonism and wrangling, particularly over trade rules and the status of the border with Northern Ireland, have made the EU deeply wary of Britain.

After Truss resigned, EU leaders expressed hope that relations could improve.

“I hope in any case that the UK can find stability as soon as possible and move forward,” French President Emmanuel Macron said at an EU summit in Brussels. “It’s good for us, and it’s good for our Europe.”

Irish Prime Minister Michael Martin agreed that much was at stake.

“Stability is very important,” he said, “given the pretty significant geopolitical issues facing Europe (like the war in Ukraine and the energy crisis).

Michel Barnier, who negotiated the terms of Brexit on behalf of the EU, said he was not happy about Britain’s discomfort.

“No one should or can be happy about the political and economic turmoil in the UK,” Barnier tweeted. He said: “We need to find stability and cooperate across Europe.”

Amid the chaotic scenes at Westminster, Chatham House’s Maddox found a grain of optimism. The authority of parliament and other British bodies, such as the Bank of England, has been “reasserted” in recent days, she said.

“It may not seem like it to observers around the world, but (Truss’s) departure marks a victory for UK institutions,” she said.


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