The stunning defeat of the Conservatives in the latest by-election suggests Boris Johnson’s term as Prime Minister might not be a long one. He is sure to be remembered for ending the paralysis in Parliament over Brexit but it may be too late for him to gain credit for a successful UK, free of constraints by the EU.
Like governments all around the world, Johnson’s has faced enormous challenges relating to the covid pandemic which have taken priority over practically everything else. But when the pressure has lifted he seems to have moved on to a different priority – ‘Net Zero’.
We won’t debate the relative importance of Britain’s position in the global economy or its influence in political, social, military or other global spheres against any foreseeable dangers from a warmer world. However, Johnson seems to think that his government can lead the rest, by example, to a world free from increasing carbon emissions and this is now his top priority after saving the NHS from collapse and its clients from death by a deadly disease. America, China, Germany, India, etc. clearly intend to follow their own paths and timescales and won’t be much persuaded by Boris’s deadlines.
Britain could still lead by example if its Government drew on its recognised strength in research to find better ways of generating its energy needs that won’t poison the planet. It also has to overcome its recognised weakness in turning ideas and startup schemes into thriving industries. This might also help its deindustrialised regions, another of the Prime Minister’s supposed priorities.
Whether it is energy storage, ‘green’ hydrogen, nuclear fusion, a Bristol Channel barrage or whatever, the world would certainly take notice of an efficient, net zero economy rather than an impoverished one. If successful other countries would buy UK technology, licences and consultancy. Even if less than successful in some endeavours or overshadowed by foreign developments the effort is likely to have unsuspected, beneficial outcomes just as the ‘space race’ did half a century ago.
This would be better done with our own IT regulations and our own approach to risk, free from stifling EU regulations, as we see fit. Some work is already being done on everything we have mentioned of course but too much is mere words and promises rather than focused commitment.
Of course taking action that confronts the EU is sure to draw a hostile response, but prevarication over what must be done will not help us. If UK voters can’t decide what they believe is best for their country there was no point in quitting the EU, being out but under it’s regulatory or judicial control is worse than remaining. This is not the best time to add stress to the economy but when would be a good time?