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Re-booting Britain

Back to the future

The Bank of America’s 2021 prediction about Britain’s financial status was to guide the decade, that the pound was to behave like an emerging-market currency, in terms of volatility. The pound had never been a strong currency. For example, it has fallen against the Swiss franc from Fr. 10 to the £ in 1969 to around Fr. 1.3 in 2021. The fall against the US $ was similar. The decline however was slow and generally passed unnoticed. The chronic deficit in the UK trading balance of payments was the main cause.

COVID masked the effect of Brexit, including its impact on exchange rates. The effect was felt as the EU’s economy regained the full impetus generated by the single market whilst the UK’s recovery remained shackled by Brexit bureaucracy imposed by Brexit. This was aggravated by the ‘stand on our own feet’ policy, enunciated by Grant Shapps, a policy reminiscent to those of communist Albania in the 60s and 70s, and by North Korea to this day. Trade relations centring UK on the other side of the world between the Pacific and Indian oceans did not rectify matters. Sterling fell below the value of the EUro in 2022, and below the dollar and Swiss franc in 2023.

Britain’s status as an economic international power as measured in GDP was also affected by sterling’s exchange rate. Having been 5th in the world for some time, we fell to 6th in 2021, having been overtaken by India whose higher growth rate ensured its position. France also improved due to Brexit stagnation and Eurozone recovery which meant that Britain reached 7th place in 2022. Italy took over 7th place before 2024 and we eventually fell to 11th place by 2031.

As the exchange rate fell, familiar scenes from the 1960’s/70’s alike returned. Mounting inflation, particularly on food prices, increases in the cost of living, civil discord and disorder, strikes. Whilst these were not general, they touched everyone’s lives in different ways. The Government resorted to exchange controls to stem the outflow of currency reserves as in the past which presented a further complication for industry. British holidaymakers, keen to party after COVID, found that they were rationed on the amount of money they were allowed to take abroad.

I fought the law

The 2020s were characterised by a number of removals of freedom in Britain, the very thing that was promised to people in the 2016 referendum. ‘Take Back Control’ was missing the object of that control i.e. Government and not the people. In 2022, the Government moved to cripple judicial review, to reduce the power of the law to interfere in its affairs. Additionally, they took further steps to remove power away from MPs by asking them to sign their rights away to object to policy decisions. The collective actions were dubbed as a ‘Zombie Government’ by Jess Phillips, Shadow Home Secretary in 2023.

Further anti-democratic moves followed in 2022 when Priti Patel introduced a bill that required protestors to apply for licences to protest three months in advance of any actions and required them to pay for policing of any actions. This effectively closed down most protests but encouraged others to act spontaneously undercover. In 2024, Voter id was used for the first time to discourage young voters. This was a major factor in allowing the Conservatives to regain power even though general antipathy towards them was at a high point.

Meanwhile, the Conservatives continued to give their political cronies lucrative contracts without any scrutiny or competition. In some cases, they were quite unqualified to deliver the contracts and this caused great strain/amusement, depending on which way you look at the issue. For example, new contracts for rail were awarded to a Conservative farmer who had become bankrupt after food shortages had broken his business resilience. Despite his enthusiasm in naming the new TOC “The Brocolli Line”, it turned out that competence in planting seeds did not transfer to industrial plants and equipment.

The eye of the Irish tiger

The situation in Northern Ireland and Ireland was reminiscent of the 1920s when the Irish National debt was written off in return for no opposition as to where the land border was drawn in the division of the spoils of war, leading to worse wars for 30 years from 1969 to the turn of the new Millennium. The people of Ireland decided in the end to reject a repeat performance. In the end, the Northern Ireland Protocol meant that food and fuel supplies continued to flow on the island of Ireland. Fuel Shortages only ever reared their heads only in local ASDA branches in two counties, particularly because the Asda Fuel Supply Chain could not differentiate between deliveries to the Home Counties vs those on the Possessed Counties. This presented the people of Ireland with a stark benefit of Brexit as compared with the mainland and drew Northern Ireland and Ireland closer together. Julian Smith (NI secretary) was more inclined to act than drift and took decisive actions to unify people and politicians. The rise of the Irish tiger was also spurred on by what happened in Scotland.

Scottish independence was a hard-fought battle and was emboldened by the move to celebrate 100 years of British rule in the 6 Counties of Ireland that constitute Northern Ireland back in 2021. It galvanised Northern Ireland and Ireland to consider ways in which the social and economic benefits of unification could mitigate or even overwhelm traditional tensions between unionists and republicans. Scotland gave everyone some surprises about Boris Johnson’s assumptions that Britannia could rule the waves. But it became clear that Johnson’s notion of having your cake and eat it too could become a reality in Scotland’s case, having the benefits of a land border with England and being able to profit from EU membership. The European Union received Scotland’s bid for membership sympathetically and assisted by supporting various development programmes around sustainability, e-commerce, fisheries, shipping, infrastructure, and business support in cities and remote areas in a digital world. This should have been obvious to anyone that watched the Irish miracle some decades ago as the EU supported improved transport networks and other areas of the Irish economy. However, it was not obvious to the Brexit ultras. As Halloween 2021 approached, a lot of things began happening behind the scenes to try and derail the Northern Ireland Protocol. They failed and eventually Sir David Frost was thrown under a bus

The antipathy towards Brexit outside England escalated rapidly after Liz Truss broke the Irish Protocol in the summer of 2022 and, in doing so, broke international law and the remnants of trust with the Biden administration. The US preferentially chose to develop trading and political relationships with the EU, based on size and political similarities. The atmosphere in Northern Ireland was tense for many months alongside movements in Stormont by the DUP.

On the upside, there was a net flow of international companies coming to Northern Ireland and Ireland to set up operations. In 2022 Ryanair pulled out of all Northern Ireland airports. This was followed by a gradual drift of shipping routes to circumvent mainland Britain. Once customs checks were factored in, it turned out that driving through Britain to reach Europe was incredibly tiring and costly on time. Onboard ships drivers could rest and recuperate and, of course, the destinations in France offered much better access to Southern European destinations.

The plan ‘Best of Both’ for Scottish independence was a detailed document and there was a concerted attempt to reach all communities to unite the people. This would pay various dividends later on, as people were united and committed to the various losses that would inevitably be taken from Westminster’s intervention in areas such as public service jobs. Unlike Brexit, Nicola Sturgeon’s approach was honest, direct and showed the people what they would lose but also how they would gain from the proposal. The slogan ‘Together but Separate’ conveyed the notion of continued collaboration with England but yet having greater independence in a much larger market. Increasingly, as England declined, it was Scotland that called the shots regarding trade and co-operation and not Westminster.

In particular, Scotland became an attractive place to locate for people wishing to sell services in the wake of the Lugano Convention remaining unsigned in Britain. COVID had finally put an end to the illusion that people had to work in cities and this spurred a desire to return to the country. Scotland offered attractive incentives for businesses and individuals to set up service-based businesses in Scotland. This magnetised skilled people away from England.

Although there was a fight between Westminster and Holyrood about national debt and various other pieces of sabre rattling, the EU was helpful in ensuring the Scotland could be given fair treatment as a smaller country, in return for various trade-offs around borders, just as Ireland had done in the 1920s.

Tensions eventually spilled over after PM Truss broke the Irish Protocol several times from 2022 to 2024, in order to deflect attention from Brexit carnage. This resulted in President Biden and then President Harris refusing to sign a US / UK trade deal.

In the intervening period from 2022 to 2026, trade links between Northern Ireland and Ireland were strengthened to the point that the idea of removing borders became a no-brainer. This was facilitated by improved transportation links between Europe and the island of Ireland and eventually, GB became an irrelevance in terms of trade, save for exports from the island of Ireland.

Events in Stormont also eventually moved in favour of accepting the idea of Northern Ireland and Ireland having their cake and eat it too through unification and full alignment with the EU, leaving England and Wales as rule takers.

The empire strikes back

Brexit was predicated on a form of English exceptionalism that expected the Commonwealth to become natural partners in post-Brexit Britain. The reality was rather shocking. In 2028 Cyprus decided to leave the Commonwealth, after some surprising departures by others around the world. It was spurred on by Gibraltar’s gradual separation from the UK, initially via its application to join Schengen in 2022, which had not even been noticed by most people.

Further afield, the empire behaved in ways that were perfectly understandable to the people but not to the Government. Canada, South Africa, Singapore, Australia, and New Zealand left the Commonwealth in 2030 after the Royal Family descended into farce, following the death of Queen Elizabeth II. This would be followed by other nations into the 2030’s as the notion of a Commonwealth run by a weakened nation became an increasing national embarrassment. In 2028, a delegation of The African Union offered to send observers to UK General Elections to detect and eliminate corruption.

Peter Cook
Peter Cookhttp://www.academy-of-rock.co.uk/
PETER leads Human Dynamics, offering Business and Organisation Development. He also delivers keynotes around the world that blend business intelligence with parallel lessons from music via The Academy of Rock. Author of and contributor to twelve books on business leadership, acclaimed by Tom Peters, Professors Charles Handy, Adrian Furnham, and Harvey Goldsmith CBE. His blends his three passions are science, business, and music into unique inspiring keynotes based on the art of storytelling. His early life involved leading innovation teams for 18 years to develop life-saving drugs including the first treatments for HIV/AIDS, Herpes and the development of Human Insulin. 18 years in academia teaching MBAs and 18 + years running his businesses. All his life since the age of four playing music. Peter won a prize for his work from Sir Richard Branson after his mother claimed he was a Virgin birth. He now writes for Virgin.com.

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