Britain dreams of still being in the nineteenth century. Today it is experiencing an economic and commercial crisis, the pound is weakening, it is unable to attract international capital to support development, and it has been hit by high inflation and increasingly serious social tensions. More and more, its alliance with the United States is beginning to show the characteristics of a vassalage, writes Dario Velo, a Professor at Pavia University.
British Premier Liz Truss resigned on October 20; according to a widespread interpretation, the government crises that have taken place in Britain in recent years are to blame, as well as the limits of the personality of the PM. Truss herself blamed her early departure on her lack of experience.
Such a crisis in a country that boasts centuries-old democratic traditions cannot simply be attributed to contingent causes; to understand these phenomena, we must understand their long-term scope.
Since the end of the Second World War, Britain has been faced with an alternative that it has not yet resolved.
In order to defeat Nazism, Britain, to tip the scales in favour of the allies, placed its colonial interests on the plate. It thus contributed to ending a historical cycle in order to open a new one among free countries.
It is understood that Britain, which won the Second World War alongside the USA and USSR, considered itself a different state, more authoritative than any other nation-state, on the same level as the great American and Russian federations. Even if that was no longer true.
A turning point in this context was the military expedition to control the Suez Canal in 1956. The expedition, conducted with France, was a complete success on the military level, yet a total failure on the political level. The Soviet Union and the United States urged them to give up this neo-colonial adventure, recognising the rights of Nasser’s Egypt. There was no choice for France and Britain. However, the decisions made by France and Britain were very different.
Jean Monnet had initiated the process of European unification: De Gaulle understood that France could play a leading role in Europe, on the condition that it adhered to the unification process, renouncing the illusion of being able to play a global role with its own strength alone.
Not so in Britain. The country wavered between a European destiny and the illusion that it could still be a major world player, as it had been in the past. The UK did not join the European Coal and Steel Community, or the European Economic Community, at first. The UK co-founded the EFTA, but left. It stubbornly opposed the Economic and Monetary Union.
A single certainty was valid for all the English governments that followed one another, the privileged alliance with the United States.
This script led to Brexit and PM Liz Truss’s manoeuvre to revive the role of Britain with a sovereign project.
The alliance with the United States implied a vassal role for Britain; British support for the war in Iraq had this significance. The illusion that it was a true alliance was confirmed by American aid to Britain in the colonial war of the Falklands. Can an equal partnership exist between two countries if one is many times more powerful than the other?
Truss’s sovereign design can be summarised as follows:
a reduction in taxes paid by citizens with higher incomes, to free up resources that would have been translated into investments, guaranteeing the relaunch of British competitiveness;
a deficit in public accounts that would have been financed without problems by international finance;
thanks to Brexit, Britain would have regained full monetary sovereignty and the possibility of financing development with the issuance of pounds by the central bank.
The reality was quite different:
sterling collapsed, following the International Monetary Fund diktat that the Bank of England adopt deflationary measures;
English society rebelled against a manoeuvre that favoured the wealthiest, increasing the gap that already characterises Britain between citizens with higher incomes and citizens with lower incomes;
the sovereign manoeuvre did not convince international finance, which did not rush to the rescue; the budget deficit proved unsustainable.
Appeals to sovereignty often operate under the illusion that a country can ignore its international ties. The Truss catastrophe confirmed that this is an illusion. Champions of sovereignty commonly want to re-establish a national power that has faded into history. The President of the Italian Republic Luigi Einaudi a century ago was lapidary: “The nation states are dust without substance.” Hence, his conviction that only federations could have given answers to the problems of the twenty-first century.
Britain dreams of still being in the nineteenth century. Today it is experiencing an economic and commercial crisis, the pound is weakening, it is unable to attract international capital to support development, and it has been hit by high inflation and increasingly serious social tensions. More and more, its alliance with the United States is beginning to show the characteristics of a vassalage.
Britain, Ukraine, Poland and others must meditate on the failure of PM Truss and British sovereignty.