The winds that toppled British Prime Minister Liz Truss are omens of a bigger storm that could drag the next government into a whirlwind of turmoil. With Rishi Sunak as Premier, the political landscape in Britain is bound to change. Born to Indian immigrants who came to the United Kingdom in the sixties, Sunak will set a historic first in the country, which has rarely, if ever, seen a non-English government leader in its history. In the last century, 10 Downing Street was the seat of two Scottish premiers only, with none from Northern Ireland or Wales.
For the Conservative Party to agree to appoint Sunak is a historic development, particularly in the homogeneous country that is the United Kingdom, as opposed to modern, mixed-race states such as the United States, Canada, and Australia. Despite positive signals, Sunak’s appointment will stir up havoc and division within British society.
Overall, Britain is changing on all levels. The economy is in dire need of painful adjustments like the ones introduced in the late nineteen seventies. Had then Prime Minister Margaret Thatcher not fought fierce wars with political forces and labor unions, Britain would not have stood on its feet as one of the seven global economic powers.
One of the main challenges are fuel costs. The Treasury and the economy are bearing the brunt of the price hike, as countries race to score their share. In the recent past, Britain was an oil exporting country, its exports standing at the same level as Kuwait’s. Today, as its reserves near depletion, it imports all its oil. Its reserves can only suffice for five years, which is why it stopped oil production. As for gas, it fulfills half its needs from the North Sea and imports the other half.
Politically, Britain was one of the first countries to halt imports from Russia, as a castigation for Moscow’s invasion of Ukraine. It was also one of the first to adapt and arrange alternatives, beating Germany and other European countries in efforts to do away with Russian imports.
Another tough challenge is that despite post-Brexit Britain’s independence in managing its affairs away from the shackles of Europe’s complex legislation, Britain has lost the EU market and therefore its membership of the largest economic market. Brexit was a popular demand and became a political decision that is costing the country losses in income, employment, and financial and investment services. Its future effects are not yet clear; the country still sells about half of its exports on the European market, but it pays high tariffs. If it were able to compensate with alternative agreements with other major markets, Brexit might have been the best decision, but so far, all the promises to open access to international markets have not been fulfilled.
The country ranks eighth in the world in industrial exports, preceded by India and South Korea but still ahead of France and Italy.
Without colonies, without the European Union’s open market, with depleting oil, and in the face of competing countries such as South Korea and India, Britain needs a miracle to overcome the crisis and compete with other powers that enjoy the advantages of natural resources and cheap labor.
Politically, Britain is still a global heavyweight and a central component of the coalition leading the war against Russia in Ukraine. But Prime Minister Sunak’s war is an economic one, which is why Liz Truss was ousted as prime minister and Sunak received the votes of the majority of the Conservative Party in the significant and challenging social and political landscape of today.
This article was originally published in, and translated from, Pan-Arab daily Asharq al-Awsat.