UK could become ‘failed state’ without reform, former PM warns

Brexit and the COVID-19 crisis have weakened the ties that bind England, Wales, Scotland and Northern Ireland, says ex-Labour PM Gordon Brown.

Brown called on officials to set up a commission to review how the UK is run [File: Russell Cheyne/Reuters]

Unless the United Kingdom is fundamentally reformed, it could swiftly become a failed state because of rising concerns that the country is governed by a London-centric elite acting in its own interest, former Prime Minister Gordon Brown says.

“I believe the choice is now between a reformed state and a failed state,” Brown wrote in the Daily Telegraph newspaper on Sunday. “It is indeed Scotland where dissatisfaction is so deep that it threatens the end of the United Kingdom.”

“‘Whoever in London thought of that?’ is a common refrain, reflecting the frustration of people in outlying communities who feel they are the forgotten men and women, virtually invisible to Whitehall,” wrote Brown, who served as Labour prime minister from 2007 to 2010.

Brown said British Prime Minister Boris Johnson should reform the way the UK is governed, warning the country must “urgently rediscover what holds it together”, or risk fracturing.

He called on Johnson, head of the ruling right-wing Conservative Party, to set up a commission and review how the country is run.

Johnson should convene “Citizens’ Assemblies in each region and nation so that he can listen to what the public are saying”, Brown said.

He also proposed replacing the UK Parliament’s unelected upper chamber, the House of Lords, with a “senate of the regions”.

“Battered by COVID-19, threatened by nationalism, and uncertain what the promise of a post-Brexit ‘Global Britain’ adds up to, the United Kingdom must urgently rediscover what holds it together and sort out what is driving us apart,” he wrote.

Brown’s comments came against the backdrop of rising political tensions in the UK, stirred by the challenges presented by Brexit plus the struggle to contain COVID-19, issues that have weakened the bonds that bind England, Wales, Scotland and Northern Ireland into a $3-trillion economy.

A poll published in The Sunday Times newspaper suggested 50 percent of Scottish voters wanted a second referendum on independence within the next five years.

The survey found 49 percent of respondents would vote in favour of breaking away from the UK, while 44 percent would reject it – the latest in a string of recent polls suggesting a small majority now support Scottish independence.

A 2014 referendum on Scottish independence saw 55 percent of voters opt against independence in a poll that was billed as a once-in-a-generation event.

Johnson has ruled out granting Scotland another public vote on the issue, but Scottish First Minister Nicola Sturgeon has said she intends to hold a “legal referendum” on independence from the UK if she wins the Scottish elections, scheduled for May.

Sturgeon argues that Brexit has transformed the situation by dragging Scotland out of the European Union against its will.

While England voted to leave the EU in a 2016 referendum, a large majority in Scotland voted to remain in the bloc.

Tension is also rising elsewhere in the UK, particularly in Northern Ireland, where a majority of voters now want a referendum on whether to form a united Ireland within the next five years, according to another poll by The Sunday Times.

The political commotion comes as the UK rapidly approaches 100,000 coronavirus deaths, marking the worst toll in Europe and the fifth-worst in the world.

Johnson’s government has been repeatedly criticised for its handling of the pandemic. Critics have accused officials of failing to move quickly enough to curtail infection rates at various stages of the crisis.

Source: Al Jazeera and news agencies