The Economist recently lamented Britain’s continuous decline in its global standing in an article entitled ‘Britain’s Decline and Fall’ (see below). Post-Brexit, it said, “the country has not cut such a pathetic figure on the global stage since Suez,” referring to the time when British power was crushed in Egypt.
The U.K.’s failures in global affairs can be attributed to its faulty system of government. It gives all powers of entering or changing international treaties to the Prime Minister and the lower house of Parliament, which, by the very definition of the parliamentary system, is also always under PM’s control. In the case of Brexit, an all-powerful PM was allowed to practice direct democracy (the Brexit referendum) even in such an important matter as the country’s membership in a union. And the supremacy of the House of Commons allowed the country the other mistake of ignoring the Lords’ advice to have a “meaningful vote” on the Brexit deal.
Both mistakes could be avoided if the U.K. had a system of government that compelled its chief executive to seek approval on all international treaties from an independent institution, along the lines of the U.S. Senate’s check on the President. If the Lords had this power to check, Prime Minister Cameron would probably not be able to launch his referendum for Brexit to begin with. Even if the referendum went through, if the constitution was supreme instead of Parliament, the Lords would have the power to approve the country’s cessation from the European Union.
Here are excerpts from The Economist article…
Britain’s Decline and Fall
The country has not cut such a pathetic figure on the global stage since Suez
A year on from the Brexit referendum … the most visible damage has been done to its domestic politics. With the Conservative Party in turmoil Jeremy Corbyn, Labour’s hard-left leader, talks about being prime minister in six months. But just as serious is the blow to Britain’s global standing, which is lower than it has been at any time since the Suez crisis in 1956, when America crushed Anthony Eden’s attempt to reassert British power in Egypt.
For decades Britain’s foreign policy has rested on three pillars: the United States, the European Union and the emerging world. … British diplomats can be starry-eyed about this. The Suez crisis demonstrated that America was happy to dump the “special relationship” whenever it clashed with its national interest. The British have always been second-division players in Europe. Yet the three pillars have not only stood the test of time. They have also reinforced each other. Britain’s membership of the EU bolstered its influence in America just as its close relations with America increased its clout in the EU. The EU magnified Britain’s global power, bringing with it trade deals with 53 other countries.
Britain’s decision to leave will obviously diminish its influence in Europe. Even if it can negotiate favourable access to the single market it will no longer be part of the EU’s decision-making apparatus. Its weakness has already been exposed: David Davis, Britain’s chief Brexit negotiator, has so far done little but make concessions. So has its isolation. Theresa May is now routinely asked to leave meetings when EU business is discussed. …
What of the third pillar? The Brexiteers’ strongest card is that they are globalists. Untethered from Europe’s rotting corpse, they argue, Britain will be free to engage with the emerging world. Yet there is no evidence that British companies were held back from this by EU membership. The EU hasn’t prevented Germany’s Mittelstand companies from becoming global powerhouses. The reverse might be the case: emerging countries are interested above all in access to the EU’s market of 500m people.
The self-reinforcing logic of the old system will go into reverse over the next few years, whoever sits in Downing Street. …Emerging markets will be more interested in dealing with great power blocks than with a small country with idiosyncratic rules and volatile politics. This could happen even faster if Britain elects Jeremy Corbyn, who has made a speciality of criticising the world’s leading powers while cuddling up to its basket cases.
From virtuous to vicious circle
Since the 1980s Britain and America have been the world’s leading apostles of the ideology of the moment, neoliberalism. British consultants travelled around Europe and the former Soviet Union offering lessons on privatisation. The Swedes introduced internal markets into their welfare state. The Germans tried to adopt “shareholder capitalism”. But neoliberalism took a beating with the 2008 financial crisis. Britain and America have since been humbled by a populist tide that produced Brexit on one side of the Atlantic and Mr Trump on the other. Brexiteers argued that a Leave vote would produce a “Brexit spring” as the ancien régime tottered and the euro plunged. Instead, the EU is in its best shape in years, with a young reformer installed in the Élysée Palace and the Franco-German axis solid. Across the continent the press talks of Britain as the “sick man of Europe”.
In the aftermath of the Suez crisis, Dean Acheson lamented that Britain had lost an empire and failed to find a role. In the subsequent decades, post-imperial Britain in fact found several roles: as a fulcrum between Europe and America; as an old hand at globalisation in a re-globalising world; and as a leading exponent of neoliberalism. Thanks to the combination of the financial crisis and Brexit, it has lost all of these functions in one great rush. The windows have shattered and the ceiling has fallen in.
This article was first published on The Economist on 29 June 2017