ANo British prime minister since 1945 has remained in power for so short a time as Liz Truss, who resigned on Thursday, October 20, after only forty-four days spent in Downing Street. That the European country with the most deeply rooted democratic system on the continent is in turn affected by instability is, in itself, not good news. May a now average power, but one that counts in the world, be priced in a whirlwind of economic and political crisis, at a time when Russian aggression in Ukraine is testing Europe’s unity and resilience, is not one either.
Vertiginous, the fall of Liz Truss was nonetheless announced. The brutality and absurdity of her economic announcements, made of massive tax cuts for unfunded wealth, were sanctioned not only by financial circles – where some had warned her – but by public opinion, landed by the unscrewing of the immediate country, where it promised growth. His about-face, marked by the dismissal of his finance minister and the abandonment of his own program, had completed the ruin of what little recovery and authority he had left.
The failure of M.me Truss can be traced back to his extravagant nomination last summer by 160,000 Conservative Party members far removed from the country’s political center of gravity. In the British system, the post of Prime Minister is awarded to the leader of the majority party, in this case the Tories, the big winners of the 2019 legislative elections under the leadership of Boris Johnson.
Not only did Liz Truss not have the support of the Conservative MPs, but her absolute cynical predecessor had done nothing to make her task easier, on the contrary. Forced by the scandals to resign at the beginning of July, Mr. Johnson had hinted that he was going to return to power. His name has been circulating, among others, since Thursday to take over.
But the express resignation of Liz Truss marks above all the failure of the promises linked to the historic turning point that the British took six years ago by deciding to leave the European Union (EU). Put forward by Brexit supporters during the 2016 referendum, the project to transform the United Kingdom into a tax haven “liberated” from the social, financial and environmental rules of the EU had been cautiously put aside by Boris Johnson, Covid- 19 obliges. Mme Truss wanted to implement it directly. In doing so, she caused a financial panic and dragged the country to the brink.
Still traumatized by the shock of Brexit, its interminable negotiations and the extreme division it caused, the United Kingdom is struggling to designate its exit from the EU as the trigger for the downgrading and destabilization movement affecting it. Growth and investment at half mast, slowed exports, risks of secession in Scotland and Northern Ireland: the Covid served for a time to mask the damage of Brexit, which had become the “elephant in the room”, the enormity that few people, even in opposition, want to see. From this point of view, the passage to power of Mme Truss, who claimed “taking advantage of Brexit freedoms”looks like a terrible crash test.
Drawing lessons from this may be long and painful. But it is hard to see how the United Kingdom can return to the path of stability and prosperity without emerging from denial and silence on the consequences of a decision that isolated and cut it off from its neighbors and natural partners on the continent.