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Rishi Sunak: The Elephant in the Room

Indian television station NDTV reported Rishi Sunak’s accession to Britain’s top political job as, “Indian son rises over the Empire.” Hardly words that would have warmed the hearts of the 18,000 paid-up, right-wing Tories who live in SE England dreaming of an illustrious past. Only a few weeks ago, they roundly rejected the “son of India” when they anointed the recently departed Liz Truss as Prime Minister.

Rishi Sunak

France 24 pointed out that, “The 42-year-old Hindu will be Britain’s first Prime Minister of colour, and the youngest in more than two centuries. ”Sunak, the son of immigrants from India is Britain’s fifth PM in six years and the third in three months. He’s also immensely wealthy, reputedly with more money than King Charles.

Watching the political crisis in Britain with puzzlement and growing consternation from the Continent, President Macron said simply that the European Union “just wants a predictable and stable neighbour.” Not a lot to ask for, surely, after so many years in bed together?

“We told you so,” is a simple phrase, but it’s dripping with schadenfreude. Once only whispered, but now said rather more openly, and by quite a few who are in the know. They’re referring of course to the elephant in the room: Brexit.

European Union – Brexit

Britain still appears to be traumatised by the shock of leaving the European Union. Following years of heated and acrimonious negotiations, all kinds of underlying tensions and almost xenophobic divisions were exposed in British society.

Rishi Sunak

The UK divorcing the EU has left a gordian knot for politicians on all sides to try to cut through. Britain now disagrees about a legally binding document they’ve both signed. It concerns the Irish border, and the spat could put the Good Friday agreement in jeopardy. “Ireland beyond partition” is a mantra that’s aired more and more often these days. Scotland has formally committed to a referendum on independence, and there are even Welsh mutterings about going it alone in Cymru. So, the United Kingdom doesn’t look that united anymore.

For a while, Covid masked the damage of Brexit. But now there are all kinds of social undercurrents and political tensions bubbling up to the surface. They’re often camouflaged, but they’ve started to reveal serious and scary divisions in British politics. And they signal troubled waters ahead for the new “non-white” PM. Yes, that’s literally what he’s been called, in what sounds rather like not very politically correct vocabulary.

Although it’s unlikely that the UK will ever recognise or admit that Brexit has isolated the country from its European neighbours, the consequences of being cut off from its closest trading partners are a serious problem.

With the British economy crawling along at half speed and exports stalling, many in the EU wonder about Britain’s decision to leave. Just why was Boris Johnson so keen for the country to sever links with her nearest neighbours, longstanding allies, and such a huge export market? And then to cast herself adrift in a sea of troubled waters?

UK economy

At first, there was only profound disbelief and puzzlement in the European Union about how bad things are going across la Manche. Economists now see a black hole in UK public finances and both the cost of living and inflation are getting toward frightening levels as the threat of a recession coagulates.

The Guardian recently reported that while the top 10% of households in Britain are wealthier than those in many other European countries, middle-income UK households are 9% poorer than their counterparts in France. And, more disturbingly, the poorest fifth of households in Britain are more than 20% poorer than their French equivalents. Control of borders is a touchy Brexit subject. And boats full of illegal immigrants setting off from France to land on England’s beaches continue to make headlines that inflame coastal communities.

But there’s been a gradual change in attitude. It’s even reported that Ms Truss and her Foreign Secretary had a falling out about whether or not increased immigration helps to stimulate the economy. Or is it simply a drain on UK social resources and tantamount to stealing jobs from British citizens?

Rishi Sunak’s reputation… What of the future?

But because of Mr Sunak’s reputation as an economic pragmatist, EU officials and diplomats are now being cautiously optimistic about the prospect of working with him. Let’s hope this strategy works and that Rishi gets a grip on things. The UK is the world’s fifth-biggest economy, so if he fails, no matter
who we are or where we live, we’ll all feel the ripple effects as things get worse.

So we all wish Mr Sunak well. Britain and the EU will have to work together to sort out the challenges that flow from Brexit. And the car crash economics of Liz Truss’s mini-budget and Growth Plan will have to be repaired. We hope he and his team — or whoever replaces them — will get a grip on things. And that the UK returns to stability and prosperity — preferably sooner rather than later.

Because all our livelihoods depend on it.


What is your reaction to these events? Share your thoughts with us in the comments below.


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