Following the 2008 Financial Crash, a cost-cutting austerity policy is followed and a referendum about remaining in the EC is won by the No vote. Brexit is finally achieved, followed immediately by the outbreak of the Covid 19 pandemic. A new world is dawning. and the country remains divided on a number of issues concerning gender, race, the global climate and the future of the Union.
After days of negotiation, David Cameron became prime minister of a coalition government with Nick Clegg, leader of the Liberal Democrats, acting as his deputy. The coalition agreement committed the new government to severe cuts in government expenditure whilst making provision for a real increase in NHS funding; income tax relief would be provided for many workers on low pay by an increase in personal allowances; fixed term parliaments were to be established and a referendum was to be held on changing the electoral system from the existing first-past-the-post system to a proportional representation system. The two parties remained deeply divided on the question of Europe with a considerable number of Conservative members remaining hostile to the EU, whilst it was a fundamental matter of faith among Lib Dems that the UK must remain committed to European Union - however they agreed to rule out joining the Euro or any further transfer of sovereignty whilst the coalition government was in power.
The glue holding the coalition parties together was soon tested in a dispute about permitting a major increase in students’ tuition fees.
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During the election, all the Lib Dem MPs had pledged to vote against any increase and, despite a clause in the coalition agreement not to oppose such proposals, 21 Lib Dems disregarded their leaders and voted against the increase in December 2010. However, the government had enough votes to pass the measure. In 2011 the Lib Dems suffered further disappointment when their treasured aim of reforming the voting system was decisively rejected in a national referendum about whether to replace the first-past-the-post system with the alternative vote method.
Coalition government was not easy in the confrontational UK political system, and reform of the House of Lords eventually caused a coalition rift. In their election manifestos, both coalition parties had supported some form of elected House of Lords and a draft reform bill was introduced by Clegg in May 2011. The bill was eventually opposed by a significant number of Conservative back-benchers. Clegg claimed they had broken the coalition contract when he was compelled to abandon the bill in September 2012. In January 2013 Lib Dem MPs seized an opportunity to help defeat the government, when major changes to constituency boundaries were proposed as part of a policy to reduce the number of English constituencies from 533 to 502. It was perceived that the altered boundaries would bring electoral advantages to the Conservative party. The Lib Dems argued the electoral changes were all part of a package with the rejected House of Lords reform which the Conservatives had failed to honour; consequently, they regarded themselves as free to oppose the boundary changes. The vote was lost and, as a result, the number of parliamentary seats and the out-dated constituency boundaries remained unaltered until 2018 at the earliest.
Nevertheless, the coalition continued to govern. The New Labour academy schools were promoted and extended by the Conservative Secretary of State for Education Michael Gove, with the creation of free schools, funded by the government, able to operate independently of local councils. With coalition support, two successive Lib Dem secretaries of state pressed ahead with environmental policies designed to offset climate change.
Meanwhile, following the 2008 crash, fundamental changes were taking place in the economy and the employment market. The inequality between rich and poor was increasing and fewer people were able to afford to buy their own home, despite interest rates remaining at a record low level. A ‘gig economy’, using freelance or short term contract employees, developed in services such as delivery and courier work. Most gig jobs lacked basic workers’ rights such as holiday and sick pay. Zero hours work was another contentious issue. These schemes offered flexibility to worker and employer in sectors such as catering, hospitality and healthcare, but also raised questions about exploitation. The largest change in the global economy was the growth of E-commerce, or online shopping, led by Amazon which was founded in 1994 and became the world’s largest company in 2019. Shopping malls and high streets suffered as stores found it difficult to compete with the slick marketing and employment and tax advantages of E-commerce. Despite these dynamic changes, productivity in the UK economy remained sluggishly low.
George Osborne, the Conservative Chancellor of the Exchequer in the coalition government, immediately applied tax increases and measures to curtail government expenditure (with the NHS and Education ‘ring-fenced’ against cuts). The policy, aimed at reducing borrowing and rebuilding the economy, was described by opponents as an austerity programme. In 2013 the credit rating agency Moody’s reduced the UK triple A value a notch, judging that UK economic growth would remain sluggish for some years. To the surprise of many, unemployment steadily declined from 8.4% in December 2011 to 5.1% in January 2016. Employment in the public sector was reduced, but there was a rise in self-employment and the employment rate at 73.6% rose to become the highest since records began in 1971.
A whole set of welfare reliefs and benefits were replaced by Universal Credit, with payments tapering off as beneficiaries moved back into work; it was intended to help people into work rather than keeping them reliant on welfare. The National Minimum Wage, introduced by the Blair government, was continued and was augmented by the National Living Wage in 2015. In addition to these nationwide measures, Osborne’s personal ambition was to create a ‘northern powerhouse’ to revive the north of England and create a more homogeneous national economy.
However, homogeneity no longer truly described the United Kingdom. Northern Ireland retained its unique political divisions, despite the Good Friday Agreement. The political scene in Scotland was transformed by the rise of the Scottish National Party (SNP), which won an outright majority in the Scottish parliamentary elections held in 2011. Alex Salmond then demanded a referendum in Scotland on the question of Scottish independence. Cameron conceded and a Scottish referendum was held in 2014 at which 85% of the voting population turned out, 55.3% of whom voted against independence. Shortly after, Salmond resigned as SNP leader; Nicola Sturgeon took his place and the nationalists continued to dominate Scottish politics.
In England, growing unease about large numbers of immigrants was becoming evident. Increasing numbers from Eastern and Central Europe were joined by a regular flow of asylum seekers from far-flung areas which were often torn apart by war and terror. Despite measures passed in 2012 to reduce the numbers, a net flow of 298,000 migrants came to the UK in the year to September 2014—a rise of nearly 90,000 over the previous year. They added to a racial and cultural mix which was giving rise to increasing stress in some cities. In 2011 violent riots with a racial and anti-establishment flavour had broken out in London and other cities. However the successful Olympic Games held in London the following year painted a more optimistic view of civic pride and cultural inclusiveness. Nevertheless, far-right political groups constantly tried to recruit among those who felt their British culture was being overwhelmed and under-valued, but far more people were attracted by the anti-EU stance of Nigel Farage and his United Kingdom Independence Party (UKIP). Cameron moved to head off an exodus of Conservative voters to UKIP with the announcement that a referendum on EU membership would be held before 2017. He had already vetoed amendments to the Lisbon Treaty in 2011 which were intended to help save the Euro, but which also affected Britain’s powerful financial services interests.
In 2011 a series of popular uprisings in the Middle East and North Africa, jointly known as the Arab Spring, briefly promised to bring western liberal and democratic ideals to countries which had long suffered dictatorial oppression. Joy and hope was soon swept aside as Egypt returned to military dictatorship and Libya was overrun by jihadist civil war; the worst scenario unfolded in Syria where Russia came to the aid of the dictator Assad. Syria was also riven by conflicts involving Kurdish nationalists and ISIL jihadists as well as Hezbollah, a Lebanese terrorist organisation sustained by Iran. Cameron wanted to aid the freedom fighters in Syria, where Assad was suspected of using chemical weapons, but the House of Commons refused to approve RAF bombing missions in Syria in 2013. A year later, however, he won approval to take part in a bombing campaign against ISIL, which claimed it had established a new Muslim caliphate led by Abu Bakr al-Baghdadi in Syria and Iraq.
The coalition government was nearing the end of its time and the three main parties spent the early months of 2015 preparing for the forthcoming general election in May. All the polls predicted another indecisive result. The Labour party, under its leader Ed. Milliband, rowed back from much of the Blairite New Labour strategy in favour of policies favoured by trade union leaders who had helped him secure victory in the leadership battle with his brother David. He firmly supported close relationship with the EU, as did Clegg’s Lib Dem party, whereas the Conservatives, in response to a strong challenge from UKIP, promised a referendum about whether the UK should remain part of the EU. All Unionist parties in Scotland were under strong pressure from the SNP which was demanding further devolution and, ultimately, independence for Scotland. The SNP virtually swept the board at the election, winning 56 of the 59 seats - each of the other three main parties managed to salvage just one Scottish seat apiece. The Lib Dems, tarnished by their support for increased student fees, were also decimated elsewhere and returned only 8 MPs altogether. Labour’s moderate performance in England could not compensate for its severe losses in Scotland and it secured 98 fewer seats than the victorious Conservatives. The unpredicted result of the election was a narrow but definite Conservative win and David Cameron retained the premiership with a slim overall majority of ten in the Commons.
Throughout 2015, Cameron vainly struggled to win support from the EU for the changes he needed to advocate a ‘yes’ vote in the promised referendum on EU membership. He was seeking official recognition that laws pertaining to the Eurozone would not necessarily apply to non-Eurozone EU members, and they would not be expected to bail out troubled Eurozone economies; he wanted to increase free trade and reduce bureaucracy; he demanded the UK be legally exempted from ‘ever closer union’ and that national parliaments should have a collective right of veto on proposed EU laws; on immigration, he demanded the right to refuse social housing or in-work benefits to EU citizens coming to the UK until they had worked here for four years, and to stop them sending child benefit payments overseas. The eventual EU/ UK agreement, announced in February 2016, was a complex compromise requiring no changes to existing EU laws or constitution. The EU defended all the apparatus needed to protect and enhance the United Europe ambition, but Cameron claimed the United Kingdom could claim ‘special status within the European Union’ and declared that he would campaign for a ‘remain’ vote within a ‘reformed European Union’ in the forthcoming referendum, which posed a choice of ‘remain’ or ‘leave’ and no other option.
Opponents claimed the EU had yielded nothing of substance, but they were divided by two separate campaigns: Vote Leave and Leave EU. Nigel Farage lent his support to the latter, whilst the former eventually recruited Michael Gove and Boris Johnson, journalist and ex-Mayor of London as joint leaders. Cameron campaigned actively for a ‘remain’ result, but the new Labour leader Jeremy Corbyn had a eurosceptic record over the years and his party was also divided between senior figures who supported Remain and Corbyn’s backers who were generally unpersuaded by their argument. Throughout the campaign, he remained lukewarm about campaigning for Remain. The referendum was held on 23rd June 2016. To the last hours, a slim majority in favour of Remain was expected, but just after dawn on the 24th Birmingham’s ‘Leave’ vote was announced and the result became an undoubted victory for the two ‘Leave’ campaigns.
Cameron immediately resigned as Conservative leader, but he remained in 10 Downing Street until the party elected the new leader, who would also take over as prime minister. The Conservative party was deeply divided between committed euro-sceptics and many who had supported closer integration with Europe since the days of Edward Heath. The leadership campaign was a classic example of old-fashioned Tory blood-letting. Johnson was the front-runner and he was initially backed by Gove, who suddenly announced his own candidature, mortally wounding Johnson with the claim that he was not up to the job. Boris Johnson withdrew and the party eliminated the devious Gove in the next round of voting. The MPs and members then flocked to support the Home Secretary Mrs Theresa May, who had voted ‘Remain’ but was judged to be a sound and safe party unifier. She became the UK’s second female prime minister on 13th July.
Mrs May triggered the start of negotiations for UK withdrawal from the EU (Brexit) in March 2017 and in May, seeking a stronger majority to carry her Brexit arrangements through Parliament, she suddenly announced an early general election, which she clearly expected to win at the expense of the fractured Labour party.
The election campaign was tragically preceded and interrupted by acts of terrorism. During the previous year, European countries had been plagued with Islamist jihadi outrages, and similar events returned to the UK in 2017. In March, an Islamist terrorist killed a policeman outside the Palace of Westminster after killing and injuring a number of people on Westminster Bridge. In May a suicide bomber injured hundreds and killed 22 at a concert in Manchester, featuring the singer Ariane Grande, which was attended by many children and young people. This was followed by another Islamist terror attack in London, where eight were killed on London Bridge and nearby Borough Market just prior to the election in June.
The general election resulted in a hung parliament. Despite winning 42.4% of the national vote, their highest share since 1983, the Conservatives suffered a net loss of 13 seats. A vigorous membership campaign by the Corbyn-supporting Momentum movement had won many new Labour party supporters among younger people. The party gained 40.0% of the vote and gained a net total of 30 seats, partly at the expense of the SNP which lost 21 seats. In order to build a slim majority and a very tenuous authority in the Commons, May was obliged to do a partnership deal with Northern Ireland’s DUP, which won 10 seats in Northern Ireland - where Sinn Fein won seven constituencies but, as usual, refused to take their seats in Westminster.
None of this improved May’s situation regarding negotiations with the EU. She declared that if there were no post-Brexit deal at the end of the two-year negotiating period, the UK would withdraw on World Trade Organisation terms. However, she found great difficulty in maintaining support in Parliament, where the Lords were inherently opposed to Brexit and the Commons was divided over both the principle and the detail, with the Speaker determined to uphold the legislature’s privileges and make the executive answerable to the House.
The negotiations themselves were equally difficult. The EU’s senior officials were determined that Brexit should not be seen by other member states as an example to be followed. Their chief negotiator Michel Barnier insisted the UK must agree to a large financial settlement and confirm lifelong benefits for EU citizens in Britain overseen by the EU judiciary, before negotiations on a future relationship started. He also stated that nothing was agreed until everything was agreed, whereas the British negotiators, led by David Davis, would have preferred to advance from one concluded agreement to the next. Davis was sidelined mid-way through the talks, when May’s Europe advisor Ollie Robbins, a civil servant, took charge of negotiations.
Eventually in December 2017 an agreement was announced on the first stage of negotiations - the actual withdrawal of the UK from the EU. It was a classic fudge of compromise and deceit. Regarding citizens’ rights, UK courts would pay ‘due regard’ to the decisions of the EU court of Justice on an indefinite basis, and questions of interpretation would be referred directly to the EU court for the next eight years. Pending further negotiation, the UK agreed to maintain ‘full alignment’ with the EU's single market and customs rules which govern cross-border trade in Ireland, but it was by no means a clear resolution of the border problem. ‘Practical modalities for implementing the agreed methodology and schedule of UK (leaving) payments’ were deferred to the second stage of negotiations. May’s political allies, the DUP, rejected the idea of Northern Ireland remaining in the single market with a customs border separating them from the rest of the UK. For her own Brexit supporting MPs this all sounded like a sell-out. Remain-supporting MPs were also generally unhappy the first stage of leaving the EU had been completed and the government was narrowly defeated on a vote which gave Parliament a guaranteed vote on the final Brexit deal.
By now, the Brexit issue completely dominated the political scene; in 2018 the next stage of negotiations proved even more contentious, as the parties prepared to discuss the post Brexit relationship and arrangements for a transitional period, following the UK withdrawal. In July, a white paper setting out the future relationship Mrs May sought to achieve with the EU was presented to a full meeting of the cabinet at Chequers, the PM’s country retreat. The terms included securing a close associate status with the EU including continued British access to the single market for goods. The Irish border problem would be solved by a ‘facilitated customs agreement’ which would remove the need for treating the UK and EU like ‘a combined customs territory’; the UK would apply the EU's tariffs and trade policy on goods intended for onward transhipment across the border, but would control its own tariffs and trade for Northern Ireland in the domestic UK market.
Mrs May secured cabinet agreement to the draft EU Withdrawal (Brexit) Agreement, but David Davis, his Brexit deputy Steve Baker and the Foreign Secretary Boris Johnson resigned. Others also had grave doubts about May’s commitment to a full Brexit strategy and her position was progressively weakened by opposition from different parts of her own party. In September, Barnier rejected the Chequers plan, saying the integrity of the single market was not negotiable and that the UK could not cherry pick from the market's four freedoms – the free movement of people, goods, services and capital; it was to be all or nothing.
Negotiations were eventually concluded in November 2018 with a Withdrawal Agreement. It was agreed that a transitional period ending on 31st December 2020 should follow the UK exit on 29th March 2019, with provision for an extension by mutual consent. It was designed to give businesses time to adjust to the new situation and time for the British and EU governments to negotiate a new free trade deal. During transition, EU law would continue to apply to the UK (including participation in the European economic area, the single market and the customs union), the UK would continue to contribute to the EU budget, but would not to be represented in the decision-making bodies of the EU. An Irish ‘backstop’, which provided a fall-back position to avoid a hard border between the two Irish states, was appended to the agreement. Davis’ successor as Brexit secretary Dominic Raab, who had played little part in the negotiations, opposed the agreement and resigned.
The agreement was approved by EU leaders, but Mrs May faced problems in a House of Commons which was now in a state of complete turmoil. The House passed a vote declaring, for the first time in history, the government was in contempt of parliament for failing to publish the full legal advice given by the Attorney General regarding the Withdrawal Agreement. MPs also attempted to take control of events by voting for control of Brexit to be handed over to Parliament if the deal were defeated. Facing likely defeat, due to opposition from a combination of the ‘hard Brexit’-supporting European Research Group (ERG), the DUP and die-hard Remain-supporters among Conservative MPs, May delayed the vote on the deal until January. A no-confidence vote in May’s leadership of the party was promoted by the ERG which Mrs May won by 200 votes to 117, but she gave hostages to fortune, declaring she did not intend to lead the party into the next general election and that she would seek a legally binding addition to the Withdrawal Agreement in order to address mounting concerns over the Northern Ireland backstop. However, she was safe for the moment as, under Conservative party standing orders, another confidence vote in the party leader could not be held for one year.
In January 2019 the Brexit deal was defeated by a margin of 230 votes, the largest anti-government majority in UK history. Labour leader Jeremy Corbyn moved a vote of no confidence in the government which was defeated by a majority of 19, but it was clear the Prime Minister was living on borrowed time. In March, she promised that if parliament accepted her latest Brexit deal, which had been amended with an EU concession that the Irish backstop would not be permanent, she would ‘not lead the UK’ in the next stage of trade negotiations. However, the Commons once more defeated the government. At an EU summit in April it was agreed that the UK withdrawal should be postponed until 31st October.
This required the UK to participate in forthcoming elections to the EU Parliament which were held on May 23rd. Brexit-supporting Conservative and Labour supporters flocked to support the newly-formed Brexit party led by Nigel Farage; it gained the largest share of the vote and 29 seats, compared with the mere four seats won by the Conservatives and ten won by Labour. It was a major humiliation for the government and opposition parties. Mrs May’s position was untenable and she offered her resignation on 24th May, remaining as prime minister until a new leader was selected.
During her short period of power, 51 people, including 12 Cabinet members, had resigned from her government. Like Cameron, she believed EU membership had delivered significant economic and security advantages and she wanted to save as many of those benefits as possible. Neither of them had really come to terms with popular euroscepticism, perhaps regarding it as fundamentally xenophobic. Both of them also under-estimated the communitaire solidarity which made it impossible for EU leaders to waver in support of the foundation blocks of their union, such as the single market, and their determination to make sure the Brexit agreement was punitive, so that none of their other members would wish to follow the British out of the union.
Raab had openly begun a leadership campaign with the support of David Davis; many other leading Conservatives of all persuasions threw their hat in the ring as the leadership contest began. Boris Johnson was the most-recognised politician of the age and became the obvious favourite as the contest warmed up but, like Marmite, he was either admired or disliked for many different reasons. After four consecutive ballots of MPs, the list was reduced to three candidates – Johnson, Gove and the long-serving health secretary Jeremy Hunt, who beat Gove by two votes in the fifth ballot. The final choice was then handed to about 160,000 party members. On July 23rd, Johnson was declared the new leader, having won 66.4% of the members’ votes, and he became prime minister the next day.
He faced the same problems which had overwhelmed May - a deeply fractured House of Commons and an EU leadership united in holding its nose whilst supervising the formula for the UK’s departure. However Johnson was intent on leaving the EU on October 31st ‘with or without a deal’, he also wanted to replace the Irish ‘backstop’ with alternative arrangements and cut the amount the UK would pay as a ‘divorce settlement’. In late August, the Privy Council ‘advised’ the Queen to order the prorogation, or closure, of parliament from September 9th until the State Opening of the new session in October. The move was seen by some as an unconstitutional attempt to reduce the time available for parliamentary scrutiny of the government's Brexit plans. However, judges in the English High Court and the Outer House of the Court of Session in Scotland ruled that the matter was an executive political decision and not subject to judicial review. Those rulings were overturned by the Supreme Court of the UK which ruled the prorogation was unlawful. Parliament resumed sitting on 25th September.
A loose, anti no-deal Brexit coalition assumed command of the Commons and passed in one day a bill which delayed Brexit beyond the stipulated date of October 31st. Twenty one Conservative MPs supported the bill and were consequently suspended from the party - Johnson had lost his working majority on his second day in office! He refused to request an extension to the Brexit negotiations and continued to claim Brexit would still take place on the due date. In October, Johnson and the EU president announced they had reached agreement on a new protocol to replace the Irish backstop. However, the DUP did not approve and the House of Commons withheld parliamentary approval for the revised agreement. It also demanded Brexit should be further delayed until 31st January 2020. MPs finally approved the new agreement on 22nd October, but refused to agree a timetable for debating the bill. Johnson was finally forced to concede that Brexit would again be delayed.
During this process, Johnson had twice made attempts to trigger an early election, which under the terms of the Five Year Parliament Act required a two thirds majority. His efforts were frustrated, because an election would have caused Parliament to be dissolved and it would thus be unable to prevent a no-deal Brexit. A third attempt to secure an early election failed, but a joint Lib Dem/SNP proposal that an election should be held on 9th December, originally treated as a gimmick, was tested by Johnson with a bill to hold an early general election on 12th December, which only required a simple Commons majority to be successful. No party was prepared to show unwillingness to face the electorate and the bill was approved by 438 – 20 with 181 abstentions.
Electoral pacts were activated between pro- and anti- Brexit parties throughout the UK in efforts to ensure the return of MPs favourable to their causes. Several Conservative MPs who opposed Brexit had either retired or joined other parties and the party’s candidates were united to a greater or lesser degree in support of Johnson’s revised withdrawal agreement. Their major opposition on the right was Farage’s Brexit party which campaigned on a no deal Brexit platform, although Farage withdrew candidates in any seat won by Conservatives in the 2017 election. The Labour Party wanted to renegotiate a closer post-withdrawal relationship with the EU which would then go to a referendum, alongside an option to remain in the EU. Labour leader Jeremy Corbyn said he would remain neutral in a referendum campaign. Corbyn’s ambivalence on Brexit, disquiet in some quarters over his left wing policies and his failure to adequately address anti-Semitism in the party sapped enthusiasm among many Labour candidates and supporters.
The Conservative party, after all the confusion and division of recent years, was returned to power with a majority of 80, secured by 43.6% of the popular vote, despite recently losing Ruth Davidson, its popular leader in Scotland, because of her differences with Boris Johnson about Brexit (which was not popular in Scotland). The SNP rebuilt its strength, winning 48 out of the 59 Scottish seats at Westminster. The Conservatives scored heavily in Brexit-supporting areas in the north of England and Wales, where they took seats in Labour’s traditional heartlands. Labour won only 202 seats, its lowest proportion of MPs since the disaster of 1935. However, it maintained its grip in cosmopolitan London and some other major cities. The Lib Dems, despite holding their own in terms of seats and proportion of the vote, suffered the humiliation of losing their leader Jo Swinson to an SNP opponent. In Northern Ireland, the DUP leader at Westminster Nigel Dodds also lost his seat and, although it retained a single seat advantage over Sinn Fein, the DUP no longer sent an overall majority of MPs to Westminster. The challenge from the Brexit party, which carried the day in the European Elections a few months earlier, was snuffed out.
The election ensured Johnson had a mandate to secure Brexit on 31st January 2020 and ended the Remain movement’s hope of overturning the 2016 referendum result. The UK duly left the EU with the UK-EU Trade and Cooperation Agreement and an 11 month transition period, during which the UK remained in the Single Market and Customs Union. The EU was not entirely reconciled to an independent UK, and several political and commercial barriers now separated the two entities. The most important problem was the Irish protocol which maintained a customs boundary between Britain and the island of Ireland, despite the fierce opposition of the DUP and it new leader Arlene Foster.
She became the first minister of a reconvened power-sharing executive, with a new Sinn Fein deputy Michelle O’Neill, despite which the sectarian differences in Northern Ireland continued to fester and erupt into violence. In Scotland the nationalist cause also rose to the top of the agenda again, and Nicola Sturgeon led the victorious SNP in its campaign for a new referendum on Scottish independence from England.
The election had also emphasised differences and changes in the two major parties at Westminster. The Conservative party had shed much of its ‘remainer’ history in favour of a new populist support base; the old council estates and factory workplaces were no longer foreign territory to Conservative candidates. The Labour party, shorn of its traditional working class hegemony, had paraded an array of policies designed by academic, metropolitan socialists for the perceived ills of an evolving, multi-cultured society, but had lost touch with many of the patriotic and traditionalist-minded people among its indigenous support base.
Political differences and the historic Brexit occasion itself were completely eclipsed by the Covid 19 pandemic. Spreading at an incredible pace around the world from its origin in the Chinese city of Wuhan in December 2019, the corona virus was first identified in the UK on January 23rd 2020. By March 23rd, the NHS was close to being overwhelmed, and the entire country was put into ‘lock-down’. Boris Johnson was taken seriously ill with the disease and was put into intensive care for a time before making a recovery. Many businesses were forced to close and international travel was almost completely halted.
The United Kingdom was clearly on the verge of epoch-changing developments. In addition to problems caused by the disease and the consequences of Brexit, the constitutional future of the Union of Great Britain and Northern Ireland had become a looming problem. In the Irish part of the Union, already torn by continuing sectarian strife, the Irish Protocol appended to the Brexit agreement caused the Unionists to fear they were being sold down the river by the British government. In Britain itself, the Union was being shaken by Scottish nationalist demands for another referendum on independence.
These problems were compounded by the country’s involvement with the earth-changing phenomenon of climate change. The nation which had created the Industrial Revolution, spurred on by environmentalist groups like Greenpeace and the more recent Extinction Rebellion, had begun to contemplate a way of life which would no longer depend on consuming the earth’s natural resources to provide an ever-improving life style. People were becoming concerned about the environmental degradation of the planet and its effects on our own lives and all the other species with whom we share the earth. New environmental measures, such as reducing greenhouse gas emissions to net zero by 2050, were coming into effect which would have a dramatic effect on the future lives of the entire population a few years into the future.
Queen Elizabeth II, at the age of 95, continued to perform her regal duty as head of state. However, even the monarchy, which for hundreds of years had been enthroned at the apex of state affairs, was confronted with the challenge of changing times. The line of succession was firmly established through the Prince of Wales and his eldest son, Prince William Duke of Cambridge, and his young family of three, but in April 2021 the Queen suffered the loss of her husband, the family patriarch Prince Philip Duke of Edinburgh, just before his 100th birthday. His death was not eased by the discord caused by the departure of William’s brother Prince Harry and his family, for the sunny climes of California; the open breach between the brothers awoke divisive memories of their parents’ sad marriage and revived republican hopes of ending Britain’s royal heritage.
During the Queen’s reign the UK population increased from about 50.6 million to an estimated 67 million in 2020, with a population density of around 671 per sq. mile (259 per sq. k). About 84% of UK citizens lived in England, particularly in the south east. Most lived in cities or an urban environment, and their average age was increasing as a result of declining fertility rates and people living longer. At this time, the 2011 Census provide us with the last firm statistics for ethnic groups within the UK as follows: Whites 87.1%, Asians 7%, Black 3%, Mixed 2% and Other .9%. Net migration into the United Kingdom since the 1990s exceeded natural change and continued to be the main driver of the UK's population growth. It is calculated that ethnic numbers will have increased by perhaps 3-4% in total by the 2021 Census.
At the start of the Queen’s reign it was unusual to see a non-white person in most parts of Britain, but people from the Caribbean colonies were encouraged to settle here in the fifties, and throughout the rest of the century, they were joined by people from other parts of the Commonwealth and beyond. Various attempts to limit or control immigration were adopted, but these eventually broke down in 2001 when a new IT system failed. At the same time, the number of asylum-seekers from African and Asian regions was beginning to grow rapidly, with thousands assembled outside Calais seeking clandestine ways of entering the UK. Following the accession of Poland and other eastern European countries into the EU in 2004, millions of their citizens also came to seek work in the UK under the EU ‘right to work’ rules. They joined the continuing flow of immigrants from other parts of the world. The total foreign-born population increased to nearly 9.3 million or about 14% of the total population in 2018.
Simmering racial problems were highlighted in 2020 when the Black Lives Matter movement organised protests about police brutality in the United States, which transformed into violent demonstrations in Bristol, London and elsewhere against ongoing racism and UK involvement in historic slavery. At sports events and elsewhere it became popular to ‘take the knee’ to show agreement with the cause. Meantime, the authorities continue to maintain a high security alert against Islamist jihadist terrorism, which had recruited support among a number of young people in Muslim communities, some of which tended to continue holding themselves aloof from the rest of British society. These and other divisive matters, such as numerous convictions of men for forcing young girls into ‘white slave’ prostitution, encouraged attempts to feed bigotry by extreme right wing organisations. The killing of Jo Cox, a young female MP, in 2016 by one of their supporters saddened everyone across the rest of the political spectrum and shone a light on the dangers of extremist hatred, wherever it lurked. Sex discrimination was also a continuing source of complaint by groups representing women’s rights, and members of the LBGT sex minorities.
Attempts to stifle disagreeable opinions on all these foregoing matters fuelled measures to remove platforms on social media and elsewhere from non-conforming speakers and writers. ‘Cancel culture’ became a tool against free speech in some social, academic and political circles and tolerance itself came under fire. The entire world was in a state of flux and the four countries of the United Kingdom were entering a period as fundamentally challenging as any in their long, rich history.
2010 A General Election produces a ‘hung parliament’. David Cameron forms a coalition Conservative/Liberal Democrat government with Lib Dem leader Nick Clegg (born 1967) as his deputy.
~ Gordon Brown resigns. Ed Milliband (born 1969) beats his brother David (born 1965) to become the Labour party leader.
~ Chancellor of the Exchequer George Osborne, aiming to reduce the deficit in government finances, announces severe cuts in public spending.
~ A Euro Debt Crisis develops as several states including Ireland are unable to refinance their government debt or bail out failing banks and, being members of the Euro club, cannot use devaluation as a monetary tool.
~ Justice and Policing powers are devolved to the Northern Ireland Executive.
~ The Saville Inquiry into Bloody Sunday 1972 declares the shooting of 27 civilians by the army unjustified. The prime minister apologises.
~ The cap on tuition fees is raised to £9,000.
~ Nigel Farage becomes leader of UKIP again.
~ The millionth Landrover is produced.
~ Pitcairn Islands receive a democratic constitution and remains a British Overseas Territory.
~ Beavers breed in Scotland after 400 year absence.
2011 Queen Elizabeth II makes a state visit to Ireland.
~ SNP wins overall control of the Scottish parliament.
~ The DUP and Sinn Féin win most of the seats in the Northern Ireland Assembly elections.
~ A referendum rejects the Liberal Democrat proposal for an Alternative Voting System.
~ Prince William Duke of Cambridge marries Katherine (Kate) Middleton (both born 1982).
~ Cameron vetoes changes to the Lisbon treaty involving regulation of the financial services sector. The other members go ahead with plans to salvage the Euro, leaving the UK in danger of being marginalised in a ‘two-speed’ Europe.
~ Some ex-MPs are imprisoned for making false expenses claims.
~ Widespread riots, arson and looting in London boroughs and elsewhere following the shooting of a black man believed to be armed by police.
~ The UK population increases by 470,000 in the year 2010/11 and census figures record growth of 4.1million or nearly 7% since 2001.
~ House of Commons refuses to enfranchise prisoners.
~ State pension age for women raised to 65. Men to 66.
~ Shale gas resources are discovered in Lancashire.
~ News of the World newspaper owned by Rupert Murdoch’s News International closes after 168 years following phone hacking allegations.
~ Lucian Freud (born 1922), world-renowned portrait artist, dies.
~ Julian Barnes (born 1946) wins Booker Prize with The Sense of an Ending.
~ Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows Part 2, the final instalment in the Harry Potter film series, is released.
~ The King’s Speech, a film starring Colin Firth (born 1960) as King George VI receiving treatment for his speech impediment, is released.
~ Terry Pratchett, top-selling British author suffering from Alzheimer’s disease presents a BBC TV documentary Terry Pratchett Choosing to Die.
2012 The Queen celebrates her Diamond Jubilee.
~ The UK National Debt exceeds £1 trillion. The UK economy endures a double-dip recession and the Bank of England continues quantitative easing with a further £50 trillion boost to the economy.
~ Unemployment begins to fall from nearly 2.7 million.
~ The Summer Olympics are held in London for the third time. Team GB finishes third in the medals table.
~ Sex abuse allegations are made about Sir Jimmy Savile (1926-2011), TV personality and charity fund raiser.
~ Cameron withdraws bill to reform the House of Lords which caused a rift with his coalition partner Nick Clegg, who withdraws Lib Dem support for reducing the number of MPs and reorganising constituencies.
~ The Financial Services Act abolishes the Financial Services Agency and divided its responsibilities between the Financial Conduct Authority and the Bank of England’s Prudential Regulation Authority.
~ The Health and Social Care Act, not part of the coalition agreement, reorganises the structure of the National Health Service.
~ The Shard, Europe’s tallest building, opens in London.
~ Andy Murray (born 1987) wins the Olympic men’s tennis singles final and the US open championship.
~ Bradley Wiggins (born 1980) becomes the first British winner of the Tour de France cycle race.
~ Frankel, British racehorse rated the world’s best, retires after an unbeaten career winning 14 races.
2013 Same Sex marriage is legalised in England and Wales.
~ Lib Dem MPs help defer until 2018 a review aiming to reduce the number of seats in the House of Commons and alter constituency boundaries.
~ Moody’s downgrades British credit rating from AAA.
~ 70% of the Royal Mail is privatised.
~ All former Scottish police forces merge into Police Scotland.
~ Street parties in ex mining areas mark the semi-state funeral of Margaret Thatcher.
~ Islamist terrorism in the UK is renewed with the slaughter of Drummer Lee Rigby (born 1987) by 2 Nigerian born Islamist extremists.
~ MPs narrowly defeat proposals for military intervention in Syria.
~ Cardinal O'Brien (1938-2018), Britain's most senior R C prelate, resigns as the Archbishop of St Andrews and Edinburgh due to allegations of inappropriate sexual behaviour.
~ Significant support for UKIP is shown in local and parliamentary bi-elections.
~ Cameron publishes a draft bill to hold a referendum on Britain's membership of the European Union by 2017.
~ The European Court of Human Rights rules the imposition of whole life tariffs for murders in England and Wales is illegal.
~ Peter Higgs (born 1929) is awarded the Nobel Prize in physics for the Higgs-Boson particle theory.
~ Skeleton uncovered in a Leicester car park is identified as Richard III.
~ Andy Murray is the first British man to win the Wimbledon Men’s Singles title since 1936.
~ Alan Turing, wartime codebreaker and computer pioneer, is given a posthumous Royal pardon for a homosexuality conviction.
~ Elaine Morgan (born 1920), feminist and author of The Aquatic Ape and Descent of Woman dies.
2014 Scottish Independence is rejected in a Referendum. Nicola Sturgeon (born 1970) succeeds Alex Salmond as SNP Leader and Scottish First Minister.
~ UKIP wins 27% of votes in the European Elections, more than any other British party.
~ Malala Yousafzai (born 1997), a youthful female/human rights activist is brought to Britain for surgery after being shot in her Pakistani homeland. She becomes the youngest winner of the Nobel Prize for Peace.
~ UK participates in airstrikes in Iraq against Islamist insurgents known as ISIL or ISIS.
~ Terror alert in the UK is raised from substantial to severe.
~ Significant falls in UK unemployment.
~ The Invictus Games for wounded service personnel are launched by Prince Harry.
~ 888,245 ceramic poppies art installation at the Tower of London commemorate the centenary of the Great War (WWI).
~ Libby Lane becomes the first C of E woman bishop (of Stockport).
~ Kate Bush, influential singer/song writer, performs her first live shows since 1979 at the Hammersmith Apollo.
~ Artist and TV entertainer Rolf Harris (born 1930) is one of several celebrities recently sentenced for indecent or paedophile activities.
~ An independent inquiry concludes at least 1400 children in Rotherham were subject to sexual abuse which was ignored for racial-sensitive reasons by most local authorities 1997-2013. One of several similar events in other areas.
~ 2014 is the UK's warmest year since records began with an average temperature of 9.9C.
~ Death of Efua Dorkenoo (born 1949), Ghanaian-British pioneer of the global movement to end female genital mutilation.
2015 Conservatives win a small but surprising outright majority in the General Election, the SNP is completely dominant in Scotland. Liberal Democrats MP numbers are severely reduced. Ed. Milliband and Nick Clegg resign as leaders of the Labour party and the Lib Dems.
~ Momentum is formed, a grass-roots organisation intending to support Jeremy Corbyn (born 1949), who becomes party leader and begins to re-form a left-wing, socialist Labour Party.
~ Charles Prince of Wales visits Ireland and meets Sinn Féin leader Gerry Adams.
~ George Osborne announces further severe welfare and spending cuts and the introduction of the National Living Wage by 2020.
~ The UK population grows by close on half million in the past year.
~ The Consumer Price Index falls to a record minus .1%.
~ 1914-19 War Loan Bonds are final paid off.
~ Queen Elizabeth II becomes Britain’s longest serving monarch.
~ The order of succession to the British throne is altered to allow absolute primogeniture – a female child inherits ahead of younger male siblings.
~ The 800th anniversary of Magna Carta is celebrated at Runnymede.
~ The UK launches air strikes against ISIL-held sites in Syria.
~ English Heritage becomes a charitable trust to manage historic properties, whilst Historic England takes on duties of planning, advising on and protection of the historic built environment.
~ Kellingley colliery, Yorkshire, is closed – end of deep pit coal mining in Britain.
~ Sir Angus Deaton (born 1945) is awarded the Nobel Prize in Economic Sciences for his analysis of consumption, poverty and welfare.
2016 David Cameron renegotiates some aspects of British membership of the EU. Boris Johnson announces support for Brexit.
~ UK Referendum results in a vote to leave the EU (Brexit) by 51.9 - 48.1%. Cameron resigns.
~ Cameron resigns and Theresa May (born 1956) forms a new Conservative government.
~ Labour MPs vote no confidence in the leadership of Jeremy Corbyn, but he remains as Labour party leader.
~ Government loses vote due to a revolt by Conservative MPs which makes it necessary for government to seek Parliament’s approval for the Brexit deal.
~ The Chilcot Inquiry criticises government procedures and decisions leading into the 2nd Iraq war.
~ Women in the UK armed services are permitted to serve in close combat roles.
~ Arlene Foster (born 1970) becomes DUP leader and First Minister of Northern Ireland.
~ Sadiq Khan (born 1970 becomes London’s first Muslim mayor.
~ Jo Cox (born 1974) MP for Batley and Spen is murdered by a right wing extremist.
~ British athletes win 67 medals in the Rio Olympics and come second to the US in the Games medals table.
~ Death of musician David Bowie.
~ The National Living Wage comes into effect.
~ The Francis Crick Institute, Europe’s biggest biomedical research institution is opened.
~ The 2nd phase of High Speed Rail (HS2) between London and the North, a new nuclear power station Hinckley Point C and London Airport 3rd runway are approved.
~ The last Landrover Defender is produced.
~ Bloomberg tablets, the oldest known hand-written documents in the United Kingdom, dating back to AD 57 are discovered in London.
2017 The UK government invokes article 51 of the Lisbon Treaty serving notice of intent to quit the European Union (Brexit).
~ Sir Ivan Rogers (born 1960) resigns as UK ambassador to the EU.
~ Islamist terrorist attack kill 5 on London Bridge and a police constable on duty at Palace of Westminster followed 2 months later by an Islamist suicide bomber attack at a concert held in the Manchester Arena – many young people killed and injured. Seven killed and many injured in 3rd Islamist attack at London Bridge 12 days later.
~ Mrs May attempts to strengthen her position in the Commons by calling an election but loses her majority. She continues to govern with the support of the Democratic Unionist Party from Northern Ireland.
~ Severe stress in NHS hospitals is expressed by professional nursing and medical organisations.
~ Power-sharing government in N. Ireland collapses with resignation of deputy leader Martin McGuinness (born 1950) who dies a few weeks later. DUP loses 10 seats in the ensuing election and nearly loses its majority of the popular vote.
~ Moody’s downgrades UK ratings from AA1 to AA2.
~ Information Technology (IT) failures and cyber-attacks pose increasing problems to government and commercial organisations.
~ Grenfell tower residential block in west London burns with 71 fatalities.
~ The Duke of Edinburgh (born 1921) retires from Royal duties.
~ Cressida Dick (born 1960) becomes first woman commissioner of the Metropolitan police in its 188 year history.
~ Sir Kazuo Ishiguro, a Japanese born novelist and short story writer is awarded the Nobel Prize in Literature.
~ Major renovation begins at the Palace of Westminster.
2018 Mrs May secures cabinet agreement to the draft EU Withdrawal (Brexit) Agreement, but David Davis (born 1948), the Secretary of State for Brexit, and Foreign Secretary Boris Johnson resign.
~ The EU leaders endorse May’s amended Chequers agreement for Brexit.
~ MPs find the Government in contempt of parliament for failing to publish its full legal advice on the Brexit deal. They also back an amendment to hand control of Brexit to Parliament if the deal is defeated.
~ May wins a party vote of confidence.
~ Refugees begin to cross the Channel to England in small boats and claim asylum.
~ The overloaded NHS cancels all non-urgent operations for two weeks in January.
~ Prince Harry (born 1984) marries American actress Meghan Markel (born 1981).
~ Former double agent Sergei Skripal (born 1951), his daughter and a policeman are poisoned in Salisbury by novichok applied by Russian agents. They survive. 23 Russian diplomats are expelled. A woman is killed by the infected discarded container.
~ Cambridge Analytica, accused of interference with American elections and the Brexit referendum, sues for bankruptcy.
~ The UK, France and United States bomb Syrian air bases as punishment for use of Sarin gas against civilians.
~ Ken Livingstone, suspended indefinitely by the Labour Party for anti-Semitism, resigns from the party.
~ The first 3 D printed human corneas are created at Newcastle University.
~ A picture by British pop artist David Hockney (born 1937) sells in New York for $90 million, a world-record for a living artist.
~ Death of Ken Dodd (born 1927), one of the last practicing music hall stand-up comedians.
2019 The deal to withdraw from the EU is rejected by a large margin in the Commons, but May survives a vote of no confidence.
~ Conservative rebels allied with other parties ensure the March 29th deadline for leaving the EU (Brexit) is postponed twice.
~ EU-supporting Labour and Conservative MPs resign and form the Independent Group.
~ 6 million sign E petition and thousands march in London asking for another Brexit referendum.
~ The House of Commons refuses for the third time to pass the Brexit deal.
~ EU agrees May’s request to extend the date for Brexit to October 31st. The UK must take part in EU elections.
~ Nigel Farage forms and leads a new Brexit Party which wins the largest number of MEPs in the European elections.
~ Theresa May resigns as Conservative party leader.
~ Boris Johnson becomes PM and leads a government committed to leave the EU on 31 October, ‘deal or no deal’.
~ Parliament prevents the government taking the UK out of the EU without an agreement and also prevents Johnson calling for an immediate election.
~ Parliament is prorogued but the Supreme Court rules it is unlawful and the deadlock in the House of Commons is resumed.
~ A Brexit Treaty is agreed with Europe and accepted by the House of Commons, but is paused because the House requires more time for consideration.
~ The Early Parliamentary General Election Act is passed and an Election is called for December 12th.
~ John Bercow (born 1963) retires and Lindsay Hoyle (born 1957), Labour MP for Chorley, becomes Speaker of the House of Commons.
~ Boris Johnson and the Conservative Party win a majority of eighty promising to leave the EU by January 31st. Scots Nationalists win 47 seats in Scotland.
~ Disruption in London caused by large Extinction Rebellion demonstrations to stop climate change.
~ Andrew, Duke of York withdraws from Royal duties after failing to deal adequately with questions about his relationship with a paedophile American businessman.
~ Cardinal Newman (died 1890) becomes the first Englishman canonised as a saint since the 17th century.
~ Death of Sqn. Leader Dick Churchill aged 99, last survivor of the Great Escape from Stalag Luft III.
~ Abortion is decriminalised in Northern Ireland.
2020 The UK leaves the European Union on 31st January and begins to negotiate a trade agreement during an 11-month transition period in which it remains in the Single Market and Customs Union.
~ Prince Harry and his wife announce they wish to become semi-detached Royals, but their HRH status is ended. They go to live in Los Angeles.
~ The Corona Virus Covid 19 pandemic sweeps around the world from its inception in China. London and world stock markets collapse. Interest Rate cut to .1%. Football season and local elections postponed. Schools, cafes, pubs, theatres, cinemas, etc. are closed. Government pays furlough for laid-off workers.
~ Boris Johnson is taken seriously ill with Covid 19.
~ The Northern Ireland Assembly reconvenes at Stormont after a 3 year suspension. DUP leader Arlene Foster is first minister with Sinn Fein’s Michelle O’Neill (born 1977) her deputy.
~ Corbyn resigns and Sir Kier Starmer (born 1962) is elected leader of the Labour party.
~ 99 year old Captain Tom Moore raises over £13million for the NHS and inspires the nation. He is knighted by the queen before dying of Covid 19 the following February.
~ Distinguished conservative philosopher Roger Scruton dies.