Britain emerged as a world power in the first Elizabethan Age. It’s perhaps symbolic that the arc of history is now closing with a soon-to-be little England with the death of Elizabeth II.
The last great symbol of the United Kingdom and Commonwealth, the passing of this beloved and popular monarch will mark the inevitable descent of this once-powerful nation from global empire to no more than a fractured island.
Its current wounds are self-inflicted; its loyal alliance with the United States will only drag it down further and faster. If people think its joint disastrous and criminal invasion of Iraq with the US more than two decades ago was bad for the country, its current trajectory will likely prove to be much worse.
By following Washington, it has effectively declared China an adversary on par with Russia, if not worse. But without membership in the European Union and trade with China, it has put all its eggs in the same basket with the US. It can have no independent security or foreign policies except those dictated by Washington, which increasingly demands subservience without reciprocating benefits. Forget about punching above its weight on the international stage; playing second fiddle doesn’t count.
India has just become the world’s fifth-largest economy by overtaking Britain, according to the International Monetary Fund. It’s perhaps historic justice that the once “jewel in the crown” is now bigger and more powerful than its former coloniser. In the 21st century, it’s India, not Britain, that is able to pursue its own security and foreign policies with complete independence.
It may be argued that Britain’s current problems – recurring political crises and scandals, the breakdown of its public health system, the fuel and cost-of-living challenges and a falling currency – are temporary. But a country diminishing economically, politically and globally in stature has much less room for error than one that remains powerful and pre-eminent.
In the years or decades ahead, it’s not only possible but probable that Scotland will gain independence and rejoin the EU, and Northern Ireland will reunite with the rest of Ireland. England will be left with Wales, and the UK will be no more. All great empires eventually fail, though the painful and bloody process could drag on for a long time.
The United States – the greatest empire of modern times that dare not speak its name – should take note.