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Truss’s exit has battered Britain’s global image

Next week the UK will get its third prime minister in four months, who has the unenviable job of getting it back on track domestically and internationally

Person, Human, Blonde Reuters/Henry Nicholls
Liz Truss heads back into 10 Downing Street after announcing her resignation as the UK's shortest-serving prime minister

The words circulating around the British parliament in the last week veered from “embarrassing” to “shambles” to “humiliating”.

The circus of the five weeks of the Liz Truss premiership will come to an end within a week. At 45 days, this has been the shortest prime ministerial stint in British history. The Conservative leadership election in the summer lasted longer than Truss did in office.

By the end of next week, Britain will get its third prime minister in four months. Italy looks stable in comparison.

The Conservative party is in disarray. It trails the Labour party by 30 to 35 percent in the polls, something which should rule out any chance of a general election in the near future, however much opposition parties will demand it. The Conservative party will not wish to commit electoral suicide. 

The party is so split it will be impossible to select a unity candidate.

Rishi Sunak may be seen as the initial favourite, given he came second last time but also got the most votes by MPs.

Boris Johnson fancies a return to Downing Street and retains considerable support.

Suella Braverman may be the candidate of the far right, but such an experiment would be a massive risk in terms of calming the market and rebuilding international relations. 

How will this pan out internationally?

The government will remain keen to pursue free trade deals including with the GCC. This might be easier if a new prime minister ditches the reckless plans to review the location of the British Embassy to Israel, perhaps moving it from Tel Aviv to Jerusalem. Gulf leaders have expressed concerns about this. 

Relations with Washington will be a priority, with the issue of the Northern Ireland protocol a major issue of dispute with the Biden administration. A new prime minister will continue to back Ukraine and reject Russian aggression. 

Britain always benefited from a reputation of having a calm sensible political system, backed by a professional civil service and policymaking machinery. It used to be perceived as a stable political address, not prone to bouts of instability and turmoil. 

The last few years have smashed that image. Much of the world viewed the exit from the EU aghast, wondering just why Britain would vote to leave the world’s largest free trade bloc.

But that is nothing to the last 12 months. It started with the shenanigans of Boris Johnson and his scandals over parties and corruption. A record 52 ministers and aides resigned in just 24 hours. 

Then Truss succeeded in crashing the UK economy following the mini budget of September 23. The massive unfunded tax cuts spooked the markets. The pound tumbled, interest rates shot up and Britain now has a huge fiscal black hole. 

The writing was on the wall when on October 14 she sacked her close friend and chancellor of the exchequer, Kwasi Kwarteng. She became a leader only in name, ridiculed and lampooned.

This has trashed Britain’s reputation for economic competence. It will take more than a few reassuring words and calming decisions to even start to address that reputational damage. 

Whoever takes over will have little room for manoeuvre. It is hard to imagine that the new economic policy as defined by Jeremy Hunt, the new chancellor, can be altered.

It means no tax cuts and a painful slash to public spending. The economic climate rules out any bold and risky measures. Market confidence in Britain will remain brittle for some time. 

What may change is budgetary. All departments will have to find savings. This means a probable cut in Foreign Office spending, not least international aid. It could be another blow to British soft power. 

Britain will be focused on its domestic ills. This has been the way for some time now, not least since the 2016 EU referendum. It has taken more of a back-seat role in international affairs, Ukraine excluded, and this may remain the case.

Chris Doyle is director of the Council of Arab British Understanding

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