Editorial: UK and US battered by political chaos – and it’s likely to continue


In 2020, constant waves of chaos have come to characterise politics in two key countries.

Every time there’s a lull and a chance to take stock in the United States and Britain, another wall of water floods the zone.

This week is important for both, but it’s unlikely to end the ongoing instability.

In the US, the Electoral College vote today to officially elect Joe Biden the 46th president offers a chance for the country to mop up and find some firm ground after last month’s election.

Even so, the New York Times reports that President Donald Trump and his allies have set their sights on January 7 when the electors’ ballots are to be read into the official record in Congress, as a last stand to overturn the result.

On Sunday, thousands of supporters of the outgoing President rallied in Washington, to back his desperate legal attempts to win the election he lost. They included a large contingent of the extremist Proud Boys group.

In Europe, there is still a chance sense could prevail with negotiators trying to reach an agreement for a future relationship under Brexit. Yesterday was supposed to be the final day to find common ground but talks continued. A no-deal Brexit remains on the cards.

It appears as though the challenges of this year, with massive death and disruption from the pandemic and economic recession, have not resulted in a desire to calm things down and seek safe harbour.

Instead, restraints have been further loosened and nationalism fanned.

On the surface, it seems strange that British Prime Minister Boris Johnson would look back on this year and then decide his country could handle more chaos and economic pain, which is what a no-deal would bring with the new year.

Britain left the European Union – and the stability of belonging to an important single market – in January but has largely kept its trading terms during a transition period, which is due to end on December 31.

It would crash out on default World Trade Organisation terms, including tariffs and quotas, if there is no deal.

At the weekend the British Government stepped up planning for a no-deal on January 1.

Supermarkets have been told to stockpile food, plans are being drawn up for billions of pounds in bailout money, and nationalistic flourishes in the form of navy gunboats are meant to ward off French fishing vessels.

One possibility is Britain could publicly opt to leave without a trade deal – referred to as “Australia terms” – while being open in the next two weeks to “Canada terms”, or free trade with no tariffs. Johnson has said Britain would “prosper” either way.

Former Australian Prime Minister Malcolm Turnbull popped that balloon last week when he told the BBC that Britain “should be careful what you wish for” in believing an Australian-style trading relationship with the EU was a good option.

Australia would prefer to have what the UK might throw away. It has been negotiating a free-trade agreement with the EU. Turnbull described Australia’s existing trade relationship with the EU as “pretty disappointing” with “big barriers”.

Former Tory party chairman and European commissioner Chris Patten called Johnson an “English nationalist” and said he feared for Britain’s future.

The no-compromise attitudes and influence of the fringe within the Conservative and Republican parties have grown over decades.

The depressing takeaway from the US and UK this year is that in certain unusual circumstances there is nothing that will dissuade a leadership group and their supporters from pursuing a radical course.

No background problems, no economic cost, no community suffering, no facts, no rules, no common sense, seem to intrude that might result in a rethink of the situation.

Hopefully there’s still time to step back and de-escalate.

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