The New York Times has a long article by Peter S. Goodman examining the already poor socio-economic circumstances of the United Kingdom as it slowly disengages from the European Union. A situation most economists predict will become far worse in the decade – or decades – following Brexit. The piece should be of particular interest to readers in Ireland, given that the UK is our nearest neighbour and trading partner; and one with a continued colonial presence in the north-eastern corner of our island nation. In this case, a British dilemma does not necessarily represent an Irish opportunity.
While Britain’s political and media obsession with, or adherence to, Brexit may benefit this country in the long-run, further erasing the artificial division of UK-imposed partition, in the short term we should expect considerable disruption to take place between both nations. Arguably, that has already happened, with government ministers in Dublin and London communicating more often through press briefings or off-the-record remarks than through official channels or face-to-face meetings. In the long term, we might well find ourselves living next door to a territory deeply troubled by social and economic problems, of a type not seen since the 1970s or early ‘80s. A post-Brexit equivalent of Thatcherite Britain on steroids.
From the NYT report:
For a nation with a storied history of public largess, the protracted campaign of budget cutting, started in 2010 by a government led by the Conservative Party, has delivered a monumental shift in British life. A wave of austerity has yielded a country that has grown accustomed to living with less, even as many measures of social well-being — crime rates, opioid addiction, infant mortality, childhood poverty and homelessness — point to a deteriorating quality of life.
By 2020, reductions already set in motion will produce cuts to British social welfare programs exceeding $36 billion a year compared with a decade earlier…
Whatever the operative thinking, austerity’s manifestations are palpable and omnipresent. It has refashioned British society, making it less like the rest of Western Europe, with its generous social safety nets and egalitarian ethos, and more like the United States, where millions lack health care and job loss can set off a precipitous plunge in fortunes.
With the United Kingdom staking its future on becoming a mercantile “Empire 2.0” for the world, a low-wage, low-cost, low-regulation economy on the edge of Europe, the comparison to the US may become ever more apt in the years ahead. We may finally get back our sundered Six Counties. However it may be at the cost of having to accommodate a rogue economy on the other side of the Irish Sea.