The 21st Century has been a tumultuous time for the United Kingdom. Long regarded as a bastion of stability amidst the turmoil of continental Europe, the past decades have shown that Britain is not immune to instability. Yet what does a modern British history timeline look like?
Where does one begin to examine modern British history? Gordon Brown’s premiership seems like the best place to begin. It’s here that the country started to experience earth tremors that would lead to the seismic shift of Brexit.
Ready to learn how Britain found itself in its current position? Then read on, and discover all that you need to know about modern UK history.
Flashback to 2007 and the world is a very different place. George W. Bush is the President, Tony Blair is the UK’s Prime Minister, and the Iraq War’s aftermath is still raging. Yet Blair’s prime ministership was coming to a close, with him preferring to take up a role as Middle East Peace Envoy.
In June 2007, Gordon Brown became the Prime Minister of the United Kingdom. Brown was unelected, which caused controversy at the time. It wouldn’t be long until a second “unelected” Prime Minister would head the UK’s government.
Brown’s premiership was unexceptional but dogged by problems.
Socially, little was achieved by Brown’s government. It finally allowed the Gurkhas, Nepalese soldiers in the British Army, to settle in the UK after their service. He also released the Lockerbie bomber, Abdelbaset al-Megrahi, on compassionate grounds, which was deeply controversial.
The biggest problem faced by Gordon Brown was the 2008 financial crisis. In a move that remains unpopular to this day, Brown’s government bailed out both Northern Rock and the Royal Bank of Scotland when they faced financial trouble. This economic stimulus is said to have influenced the world’s approach to restoring order during the Great Recession.
Other measures taken by Brown’s government that were unusual in British history included a small business loan guarantee and £5 billion in training for youths and the unemployed. A car scrappage scheme was also introduced, aimed at keeping the British car market afloat.
Despite its best efforts, Brown’s government remained deeply unpopular and a landmark election in British history was looming.
The 2010 General Election marks a critical point in the modern British history timeline. Browns’ unpopularity, as well as a series of gaffes, had sealed his fate. Yet David Cameron was not a popular figure either and struggled to win a majority, resulting in only the second hung parliament since World War 2.
It was to be the Liberal Democrats, long a minority party, who would be the kingmakers. Their charismatic leader, Nick Clegg, and dissatisfaction with two-party politics ended up giving them 57 seats in the House of Commons. This was actually a reduction, yet Clegg’s popularity ensured that they were taken seriously.
A coalition government was formed of the Conservative Party and the Liberal Democrats. This would later shatter the Liberal Democrats, with their generally center-left voter base feeling betrayed.
David Cameron became Prime Minister and Nick Clegg was his deputy.
Aside from Brexit, the two largest events in David Cameron’s premiership were the austerity program and one of the biggest NHS reforms in British history.
While Brown had strived for fiscal stimulus, Cameron favored the austerity approach. He argued, in a move that is deeply controversial to this day, that Britain couldn’t afford to keep spending money. Instead, we needed to tighten our belts.
This belt-tightening was felt most by those whose benefits were cut, such as the disabled. Some argue that these cuts indirectly cost 120,000 people their lives.
The NHS reforms were just as controversial. The Health and Social Care Act of 2012 gave private healthcare providers more inroads to the NHS, which had long been seen as a bastion of British socialism.
Brexit would be the most significant point on his timeline, however.
In his 2015 General Election manifesto, David Cameron pledged to hold a referendum on Britain’s membership of the EU. After his victory, where he won a majority, the date was set for June 23rd, 2016.
Despite campaigning by both major parties for a remain vote, the British public voted, with a majority of four percent, to leave the EU. This was a major upset, and David Cameron resigned the following morning.
Following a brief leadership election between Theresa May and Andrea Leadsom, May became Britain’s Prime Minister in July 2016. May’s premiership is, like Brown’s regarded as unexceptional, and saw domestic chaos.
British safety and security were major issues during May’s premiership. The United Kingdom endured three terrorist attacks under her regime, including the devastating suicide bombing of the Manchester Arena. The Grenfell Tower disaster, which killed 72 people, was seen as an indictment of profit over people, a running theme of the Conservative policies since 2010.
The Brexit gridlock under May also caused many to describe her as a weak leader. Britain’s actual exit from the EU was pushed back not once, but twice. This was due to the inability of May’s government to get a Brexit deal ratified, with different agreements rejected multiple times by Parliament.
May’s inability to pass a Brexit deal resulted in a collapse of her popularity with the Conservative Party. Once she resigned, the race was on for a new Conservative leader. After a lengthy contest, Boris Johnson, who had been popular with the British electorate for decades, was chosen.
Johnson still faced difficulties passing a deal. This led to the 2019 Election, where Johnson crushed Labour leader Jeremy Corbyn. The rallying cry of this election was “get Brexit done,” which Johnson achieved shortly after his election.
Since then, Britain has now left the European Union and is in its transitional period. What happens after Brexit is anyone’s guess.
To paraphrase W.H. Auden, accurate scholarship can unearth the whole offense that has driven a culture to Brexit. While this British history timeline is not exhaustive, we hope that you’ve found it helpful in learning what makes 21st Century Britain tick.
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