Britain faces existential crisis in the wake of Brexit and the second wave of the pandemic

Plagued by out-of-control virus, shunned by much of the world, including lowly Third World, and haunted by post-Brexit uncertainties, Britain enters New year facing unprecedented existential crisis

Britain faces existential crisis in the wake of Brexit and the second wave of the pandemic

Hasan Suroor

The "Plague Island"

Plagued by an out-of-control virus, shunned by much of the world, including the lowly Third World, and haunted by post-Brexit uncertainties, Britain enters the New year facing an unprecedented existential crisis amid serious doubts about Boris Johnson's ability to steer the country out of a crisis that is widely blamed on his own ineptitude in the first place.

The double whammy of the pandemic and feared consequences of Brexit has also thrown into doubt Britain's place in the world. Its plight has been greeted in Europe and across the pond with a mix of alarm, pity, and schadenfreude. The New York Times dubbed it the “plague island” while The Washington Post noted that Boris Johnson “should have acted sooner” to control the virus. The European media has been even more scathing. There's a sense that Britain had it coming and that "it serves the arrogant Brits right".

They see the British plight as confirmation of their gloomy forecast for its post-Brexit future. An editorial in France's Le Figaro warned that reports of shortages of essential commodities and panic-buying in the UK were "a disastrous foretaste of what could happen" after Brexit.

A lot of the negative reaction is down to the Europeans' intense personal dislike for Boris Johnson, who has spent a lifetime --first as a journalist and later as politician--attacking Europe and undermining the European Union project. He is a hated figure even among ordinary Europeans for his "villainous" role in driving Brexit --using fake statistics and dubious arguments to turn British public opinion against EU. Britain's exit is widely seen as good riddance.

Ban on naughty professors

Better late than never. British universities are finally catching up with their American counterparts in cracking down on the age-old toxic culture which allows senior academics with enormous powers over their charges to have exploitative affairs with young female students. The practice is so deeply ingrained that it has been likened to being as common as "getting drunk in freshers’ week".

Oxford University has now decided to ban romantic and sexual contact between academics and students. Any academic found flouting the policy would face dismissal. It's only the second top British university to take such action after the University College, London earlier this year whereas such bans are common at Ivy league universities in America such as Princeton, Harvard and Yale.

The move follows pressure from student groups after Oxford was found to have the highest number of allegations of sexual harassment out of 120 UK universities. It is expected to increase pressure on other universities where students have long complained about widespread sexism.

High spirits

While most British businesses are fighting for survival and many have already closed down because of Covid-related disruption, the booze industry is apparently thriving as locked-down Brits have taken to binging to keep their spirits high amid the all-pervasive gloom.

And, it seems, they are drinking more under the current lockdown than they did the first-time round. Figures published by Public Health England show that "record

numbers" of people have been drinking more than five bottles of wine a week since the first national lockdown.

Almost one in 20 people are drinking more than 50 units of alcohol per week--nearly 50 per cent higher than in March, when the figure was about one in 30. This far exceeds the limit recommended by medical authorities.

According to a study commissioned by Alcohol Change, UK one in five people said they were drinking alcohol as a way to handle stress or anxiety during lockdown. Intriguingly, it also showed that drinkers from black, Asian and minority ethnic backgrounds were more likely than white people to admit that they had drunk alcohol to handle stress or anxiety --29 per cent compared to 18 per cent.

Respect” Vs “tolerance”

As academic hairsplitting goes, this one is up there in the Oxbridge league: Should one be expected to “respect” another person’s viewpoint no matter how much they dislike it? Or mere “tolerance” would do?

Cambridge University has just been through a blazing row over its new guidelines on free speech, prompted by concerns over the "cancel culture" sweeping British campuses whereby anyone with challenging views risks being hounded by a generation of “woke” students and teachers.

The original guidelines proposed by the university would have required staff, students and visiting speakers to remain "respectful" of the views and "identities" of others. But they ran into trouble with free speech warriors who claimed they would block controversial ideas and debates. And a noisy campaign was launched to replace “respect” with “tolerance” triggering a vote in the university's governing body, the Regent House.

Last week, critics won the vote. So, the new guidelines will expect "staff, students and visitors to be tolerant of the differing opinions of others". They also underline the need to hear from outside speakers, even if controversial, as long as they remain within the law.

And, lastly, in the English town of Whitby there's a street called Arguments Yard. "It is very short so arguments must be succinct," explains a resident.

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