Britain caps off topsy-turvy year of queen’s death, prime minister roulette with energy crisis, economic woes
The United Kingdom wraps up an historic year in which it saw the changing of its monarch for the first time in 70 years while switching prime minister three times in three months, all of which has left the country in an uncertain position heading into the New Year.
Boris Johnson started the year as prime minister, but gave way to Liz Truss before Rishi Sunak took over. Britain, in that time, has seen a number of problems arise across the economic spectrum that will continue to plague it in 2023.
But this year shall remain most significant in the U.K. as the year that Queen Elizabeth II, Britain’s longest-reigning monarch and the world’s second-longest reigning monarch, passed away. Her death touched all corners of the globe, and all eyes now rest on King Charles III to see how he handles the awesome responsibility of ruling.
Between Sunak and Charles, there will be plenty to work as they guide Britain through a difficult period.
PRIME MINISTER ROULETTE
Johnson’s reputation for a Teflon-like ability to deflect scandal and controversy finally failed him after he elevated party member Chris Pincher to the powerful role of deputy chief whip despite allegations of sexual misconduct.
Facing a vote of no confidence, Johnson voluntarily stepped down, which prompted an incredible leadership challenge that lasted for months and eventually winnowed down to just two candidates: Former Chancellor of the Exchequer Sunak, who also helped pushed out Johnson with a very public resignation from his cabinet position, and the then foreign secretary Truss.
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Truss won out, but her victory proved short-lived as she spent just 44 days in office – the shortest stint for any British prime minister in history. The “no confidence” rumblings started almost as soon as she entered office, prompting a humorous website to livestream a head of lettuce to see if it would outlast the Truss government.
And the lettuce won after Truss and her Chancellor of the Exchequer Kwasi Kwarteng released their mini-budget, which they argued would help stimulate the economy with tax cuts that would have reduced treasury revenues by some $54 billion.
The public and experts rejected the plan and immediately called for Truss to resign. She eventually agreed, but ended up with the distinction as the final prime minister of Elizabeth’s reign.
Sunak won the second, brief leadership challenge. His personal wealth is due mostly to his wife Akshata Murty’s holdings in her family’s India-based IT company Infosys. Her .93% stake in the company is worth 700 million pounds, making the couple wealthier than Elizabeth or Charles.
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Many argued that Sunak’s wealth and lifestyle made it impossible for him to understand the problems of the common man. He also had to fight back some criticism that accused him of not having the interest of “Black, White or Asian” people. Sunak was born to Indian parents and is a practicing Hindu.
Sunak has governed quietly, making a splash when he first announced he would not attend the COP27 climate summit before making a sharp U-turn due to international criticism, then for his autumn budget, which went in the exact opposite direction of Truss’ plan and looked to raise taxes.
LEADING IN UKRAINE
The rotation of prime ministers has not disrupted one of the greater initiatives Britain undertook this year: Leading on support for Ukraine.
Defense Minister Ben Wallace remained an ardent supporter of Ukraine following Russia’s invasion, with his ministry providing surprisingly transparent and frequent intelligence updates.
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Secret Intelligence Chief Richard Moore, along with his U.S. counterpart CIA Director William Burns, revealed over the summer that Russia may have lost at least 15,000 troops over the first few months of the invasion – a catastrophic number for what many considered a superior force prior to the start.
And perhaps one of the banner moments in the conflict saw Johnson walking the streets of Kyiv with Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskyy in August, just five months after the invasion started, as a show of confidence that Ukraine had taken back control of the capital and vouched for its safety.
The act prompted comparisons to Churchill for the bravery and defiance Johnson showed.
The U.K. continues to send weapons support to Ukraine – something that British politician Nigel Farage argued was only possible thanks to Brexit as Europe spent weeks debating and dealing over how to appease its various members and approve its own support package.
Britain also acted early on to approve sanctions against Russia, including a freeze on assets and travel bans for over 370 individuals (including oligarchs). Britain would work with the U.S., Europe, Canada and other allies to block Russia’s access to the SWIFT banking system, effectively cutting Moscow off from the Western global market.
ENERGY AND ECONOMIC WOES
The sanctions against Russia proved to be a double-edged sword as Moscow significantly decreased its oil and gas deliveries to Europe and threatened to cut off grain shipments, putting the world at risk of famine.
The sudden shortage on oil supplies caused a scramble among Western nations to approve additional pipelines and seek further production from OPEC+ to offset the losses, but the price for oil and gas kept climbing.
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With winter, the U.K. may end up the most hard-hit by rising energy prices. An International Monetary Fund [IMF] analysis found that the U.K.’s heavy reliance on gas to heat homes, as well as the relatively greater inefficiency in home heating, could see Britain paying more than any European country as a cut of household incomes.
Those energy costs have also impacted business, with many pubs and restaurants facing increased financial pressure as they struggle to keep their doors open.
“The price goes up daily,” Lindsey Armstrong, owner of Champs Sports Bar and Grill in the small northeast England town of Washington, told the New York Times about her electricity contract, which will cost her $135,000 per year, a jump from the usual cost of about $30,000.
The rising costs of energy – and coinciding inflation – pushed a number of unions to go on strike in various industries across the country, including postal workers, train operators, garbage collectors, ambulance drivers and teachers.
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Sunak told Parliament that he would “take action to protect the lives and livelihoods of the British public,” if “union leaders continue to be unreasonable.” Sunak and Labour Party leader Sir Keir Starmer have sparred over the union disputes, with Sunak accusing Starmer of failing to “stand up for working people,” while Starmer claimed that Sunak was “grandstanding” and needed to “resolve these issues.”
Elizabeth’s passing shocked the world as many considered her a mainstay – a constant presence in their lives since before they were even born. The world mourned her death, with Britain virtually shutting down for a week as some mourners stood for over a day to have a chance to pay their respects.
From Churchill to Truss, Queen Elizabeth II had a small but significant hand in guiding the country – a task that went to her son Charles. At the age of 74, King Charles III is the oldest British monarch to assume the throne, with his coronation set for early next May.
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But Charles had to keep his house in order after Harry and Meghan, the Duke and Duchess of Sussex, released a Netflix documentary in December that detailed their lives together from the beginning of their relationship to the decision to step down from their royal duties in 2020.
The documentary caused a stir in the U.K., but the second part was released to little fanfare.
Instead, it was a racism allegation against a Buckingham Palace household member that caught the most attention in the public.
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Lady Susan Hussey, Elizabeth’s lady-in-waiting and Prince William’s godmother, resigned from her position after allegedly asking a Black woman repeatedly what country she “came from.”
Buckingham Palace said it took the incident “extremely seriously” and investigated immediately.
Fox News Digital’s Andrew Mark Miller contributed to this report.
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