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Opinion | The Fantasy of Brexit Britain Is Over


Although now giving technique to a well-known nightmare, that fantasy appeared for some time to envelop the nation. The unusual cultural and emotional really feel of excessive Johnsonism is captured by two of the most watched broadcasts in British historical past, each of which happened throughout his tenure. The primary was Mr. Johnson’s handle to the nation on March 23, 2020, declaring a nationwide lockdown. The second was the Euro 2020 last, during which England stood a sensible likelihood of profitable towards Italy, on July 11, 2021. Each broadcasts, watched by tens of tens of millions of individuals, briefly synthesized a second of nationwide unity. Each portended the suspension of normality within the identify of a nationwide battle, vaguely linked to folks recollections of World Conflict II.

The eerie quiet of lockdown, with its empty streets, visitations from wildlife and ritual clapping for important employees, was matched by the flag-bedraggled, drunk and delirious mania of crowds roaming empty business streets and fervently chanting, “It’s coming dwelling!” These had been distinctly nationalist moments, however they weren’t equivalent. One nationalism was top-down, the opposite grassroots. One was “British,” institution nationalism, the opposite “English,” with extra proletarian accents. But collectively they briefly manufactured a way of nationhood.

It was, after all, hardly a time of nationwide idyll. Tens of 1000’s of older Britons needlessly died in overrun hospitals due to delays in declaring lockdowns. Meals financial institution use rose to an all-time excessive, with over 2.5 million individuals receiving packages. By the top of 2020, 9 in 10 low-income households had skilled a critical deterioration of their earnings and the proportion of individuals reporting clinically important melancholy and anxiousness tripled, rising from 17 p.c to 52 p.c. Even so, the precarious undertaking of nationwide unity, supported by huge public spending to handle the pandemic, briefly labored: The Tories led within the polls, impervious to scandal and discontent.

In September final yr, issues began to shake free. Gasoline shortages, created by a dearth of truck drivers, started to corrode Mr. Johnson’s help. In December, the primary accounts of unlawful partying in 10 Downing Road, the prime minister’s official residence, emerged. By February, rising power costs had been squeezing residing requirements and meals banks had been overwhelmed by hovering demand. Hospitals, overstretched and underfunded, struggled with a backlog of round six million sufferers, and understaffed airports canceled flights. At Westminster, the disaster enveloping the nation was transmuted right into a rising clamor to take away Mr. Johnson. He clung on for some time, however by midsummer it was over.

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