COVID-19: Britain stares at economic abyss

Amid crippling pandemic, UK faces a looming deadline to chart a common future with the EU

Britons of all camps were desperate for the divisive three-year-long Brexit saga to end.

Tired of the stalemate and the endless arguments in the final analysis most were resolved that Britain should go it alone as evidenced by the election held last July when the Conservative Party won a substantial parliamentary majority.

Prime Minister Boris Johnson was ebullient. This was the chance that he and his cabal of hardline cabinet Leavers had been waiting for; nothing could stop them now.

At last Britain would be free to negotiate trade deals with the rest of the world, would save billions in annual payments to Brussels and would be released from EU rules, laws and standards.

Unpatriotic remoaners

With the exception of the pesky unpatriotic ‘remoaners,’ captains of industry and bankers willlfully blind to the benefits of quitting the EU, people were either enthusiastic about independence or resignedly hoped for the best.

Johnson was so determined to get Brexit done and dusted that he ruled-out any extension to the transition period beyond December 31, 2020, a decision he was quick to set in legal stone despite the danger of thrusting his nation towards a cliff edge.

But as author P.G. Wodehouse rightly pointed out “just when a fellow is feeling particularly braced with things in general that fate sneaks up behind him with a bit of lead piping”.

Who could have imagined last summer that just about the entire planet would be plagued by an unknown lethal virus leaving over half of humanity forced to remain in their homes!

Only the most foolhardy seer would have dared to predict the dire situation in which some of the world’s wealthiest and most powerful countries find themselves without a rule book to guide them.

As fate leads us through this wholly unchartered territory, the only certainty besides the burgeoning death toll is the prospect of a global economic tsunami which Britain is ill-prepared to overcome.

The UK’s economy was already experiencing a slight contraction when the word Corona was associated with a beverage in our minds and it’s been downhill ever since.

Economists advising the Treasury predict massive reductions in annual GDP growth surpassing the Great Depression of 1929. The virus is calling the shots right now, however, when there is a vaccine to bring it under control a swift economic bounce back could be in the cards for many developed nations.

The question is will Britain be among the fortunate in light of the government’s bail out likely to exceed £1 trillion even as companies are going under portending widespread unemployment?

Linda S. Heard is an award-winning British specialist writer on Middle East affairs. She welcomes feedback and can be contacted by email at

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