This week 75 years ago, hostilities in the Second World War finally ended with the formal surrender of Japan. For the victorious Allied nations, it marked an end to six years of conflict that devastated one-third of the globe and still shaped current events to this day.
When the United Nations Security Council sits down now to try and agree some or any form of action on too long a list of matters needing too urgent attention, the result is inaction — each of the winning nations in that victorious Allied force — the United States, the United Kingdom, France, Russia and China — hold veto powers that provide them with the ability to adversely or inversely impact the tide of current affairs.
Others far more erudite that I have made the case that there is a need for this system to be revised, that the billions of India and the nations of South Asia are ignored, so too the Arab World, the countries that make up the African, Central and South America.
The club can never be reformed, its membership effective, as long as the Allied nations hold their respective veto powers.
But this column is not so much about the UNSC as it is about the future of the UK.
The fickleness of the British voter
In the months after the Second World War, Sir Winston Churchill — UK Prime Minister Boris Johnson has written a biography — was turfed from office in a general election. British voters turned their backs on the man who won the Second World War and opted instead for the promises of hope and vision of Labour, its National Health Service, its promise to rebuild and revitalise the war weary nation.
Now, in this week of historical celebrations muted by coronavirus, the current occupant of 10 Downing Street would do well to remember the lessons of history and the fickleness of the British voter.
There are many far more erudite than I who have compared this pandemic to the greatest challenge facing nations since the Second World War. No, the death toll is far considerably less, the physical destructive toll non comparable — but the effect on the psyche is certainly similar. The economic impact is certainly temporarily debilitating given that most nations expect to see their national GDP fall by 7 per cent and more. In the UK, the pandemic has inflicted the worst economic hit in some three centuries and, according to the best estimates of British employers, industry analysts and a collection of think tanks there, it will take until 2023 or longer for things to get to as they were heading into the end of the first quarter of 2020.
How can a rump nation, that may just be constituted of England and Wales, justifiably have a veto at the UNSC?
But this is a nation too that is facing challenges other than coronavirus. Here, in this first week in September, as most British children head back to the classroom for the first time in six months, where one-third of British workers have yet to return full-time to their places of work and where one-in-five shopfronts on streets up and down Britain are still shuttered, there are just weeks left to figure out exactly how and what the UK’s relationship will look like with the European Union come January 1.
And unless a deal is reached in the coming days, those hard-hit British businesses, shops, workers and every other aspect and frayed strands that make up a distraught economy face another very substantial body blow. If there is no deal reached — maybe things can be stretched to an emergency summit towards the end of November — then World Trade Organisation tariffs come into immediate effect on January 1. That means increases of 8 per cent on average across the board on almost everything that has to be imported into the UK. That’s a painful panacea to follow the pandemic. And sadly, right now, in a nation naturally preoccupied with all things coronavirus, it is a prospect that is simply not on the radars of most concerned with keeping safe or making ends meet. Those ends will be more difficult to meet when there’s a further 8 per cent to cover off on shopping bills.
At the bottom of the social ladder, where basic incomes are barely supplemented by charity-run food banks or pangs of hunger are eased by school meals — a plight that Manchester United striker Marcus Rashford has so commendably highlighted in recent days — the ends don’t meet now or ever for millions.
Boris Johnson's U-turns and policy reversals
Since the corona crisis began in earnest, the more erudite political observers in Britain count a dozen sharp U-turns and policy reversals committed by the Johnson government. While he holds an 80-seat majority in the House of Commons since promising in last December’s general election to get Brexit done, there is no much disquiet and unease and the manner in which his Brexit-focuses cabinet has simply blundered and bungled even the more simpler tasks in this pressing time of pandemic.
Before COVID-19, Johnson’s Conservatives had a 26 per cent lead over Jeremy Corbyn-led Labour. By last weekend, both parties stood at 40 per cent.
Johnson, boorish and blustering, is no match for the sharp and forensic cross-examinations of new Labour leader Sir Kier Starmer, the former head of the Crown Prosecution Service. In Brussels, the alarm bells are ringing loudly with reports the British aren’t taking the current trade talks seriously, want to try and renegotiate elements of the passed Withdrawal Agreement, and are essentially winding down the clock.
Is it any wonder then that in Edinburgh, Scottish First Minister Nicola Sturgeon has set out a legislative plan for a second referendum on independence. In Wales, the principality has set its own quarantine regulations, and Northern Ireland is now more tied to Ireland because of the customs border running down the Irish Sea.
Brexit aside, the pandemic too, there is a question that many around the world might ask in the coming years: How can a rump nation, that may just be constituted of England and Wales, justifiably have a veto at the UNSC?