Britain’s decline is relative, and is influenced by the fact that within living memory the UK was the world’s hyperpower. Decline though did not relegate the UK to the ranks of some ex-colonial powers like Turkey, but into the league of France, Germany and Japan (hardly disrespectable company).
For almost all the post-war period – a few bumpy years notwithstanding – the UK never dipped below number five in the world economy rankings (where it is today). Moreover, it remains (alongside China, France, Russia and the US) one of five permanent UN Security Council members and recognised states with nuclear weapons.
Unlike France, the UK has the scaffolding to rebuild its power status through a unique arrangement with the Commonwealth Realms (which includes both another G8 Country, Canada, and another G20 country, Australia). Combined, these 16 states would represent both the world’s third largest economy and largest polity.
In addition, it is one of only two countries on earth in the premier league of higher education (the other being the US). Brexit or no Brexit, Covid or no Covid, Oxbridge will likely remain Oxbridge. That matters in a world of technological innovation.
Britain’s problem is less one of hard power reality than of attitude. The UK remains a great power with the capacity to one day re-join the league of superpowers if it engineers itself accordingly. Nothing is guaranteed about the continued dominance of the world’s current superpowers.
Instead, Britain has a crisis of confidence. That was obvious in a Budget which lacked inspiration and vision, even if it attempted to put the country on a sounder fiscal footing. Even the big ideas currently on offer such as a US-style research agency involve funds so meagre as to be largely irrelevant.
Despite Britain’s blue water navy and nuclear weapons, the Armed Forces have been cut to the bone for years.