IF you’re a fan of classic adventure movies, you’ll surely know the scenario: a boat is drifting down some mighty river – the Amazon usually, maybe the majestic Zambezi.

There’s a handful of idiots onboard, probably a villain and their sidekick. Up ahead – yes, you guessed it – lies a set of deadly rapids leading to a waterfall that plummets thousands of feet to assured watery death. We all know how that scenes ends. Convention dictates the audience gets a nice wide shot of the battered boat and the idiots all disappearing over the waterfall’s edge, smashing to their fate below.

Normal Island

Here on Normal Island – aka ‘Great’ Britain – we’re well into the rapids and the waterfall is so close you feel the spray in your face. Britain is rudderless. We’re not only facing diminishment on the world stage, and the concomitant humiliation that goes with such a loss of pride, but we’re also going to have problems even defending the notion that we’re a ‘first world’ developed state quite soon. This week gives some foreshadowing of troubles to come.

All the talk among energy experts is that Britain will soon have to start rationing power. Rationing. In 2022. Alongside this step back into the past, came a pointed moment of national ignominy when America made it quite clear there’s no such thing as the ‘Special Relationship’. There’ll be no trade deals for Britannia.

For that, thank Brexit and Tory ideologues threatening to tear up the Northern Ireland protocol. Dublin matters more than London to Washington. As an extra swipe, President Joe Biden ripped apart the economic foundations upon which our new Prime Minister Liz Truss intends to build her brave new Britain.

Let’s start with rationing. The EU began preparing for an energy crisis as soon as Russia invaded Ukraine. Mandatory national gas storage requirements were set two weeks after the invasion, and storage has now reached 85%. The Commission has put forward proposals requiring all member states to reduce electricity use by 5% at peak times and impose windfall taxes on soaring energy company profits in order to redistribute them to consumers. For full analysis of this, readers should consult the essential Energy Monitor (EM) publication. Its reporting will be essential as weeks advance.

Let’s return to the metaphor of Britain as a boat heading for a waterfall. Whilst other nations are getting their energy act together we’ve just been drifting. We had the endless Tory leadership contest and the Queen’s death. It all put governing on hold – at the worst possible time. Truss’s energy plans are ill-defined, badly targeted and inadequate.

EM recently noted that Britain has a mere nine terawatt hours of gas stored, compared to 217 in Germany, 122 in France and 162 in Italy. “Part of the problem is that the UK government dismantled its largest gas storage facility in 2017,” EM explained. That decision was taken by … Liz Truss.

The fact that we’re far less dependent on Russian gas than other European nations doesn’t protect us from the craziness of the energy markets, as the current crisis has so succinctly proven. As the fourth largest user of gas in Europe, Britain is “uniquely vulnerable”. If Britain was still in the EU, we’d have been required to up our storage. But thanks to Brexit, we are where we are. Energy Monitor says Britain is “dangerously unprepared”.

The economist Renaud Foucart from Lancaster University says: “British consumers should expect some form of energy rationing this winter.” He explains that due to our “very limited storage capacity”, we’re “particularly subject” to market volatility. Fundamentally, Russia has strangled supply, and with an interconnected market, Britain’s lack of preparedness bodes ill this winter.

'It was acceptable in the '70s...'

Experts are now talking of Britain being forced into some repeat of the 1970s, with planned blackouts and maybe reduced working hours. Remember the three-day week?

Kathryn Porter from the energy consultancy Watt-Logic says it’s “very possible” we’ll see plans for some form of rationing – though she thinks it’ll be “voluntary, asking people to make a small sacrifice to avoid blackouts”. That might mean doing laundry at 3am. Clearly, the consequences for hospitals, schools and care homes are dire.

Truss has ruled out rationing – a sign that government already knows it’s a possibility. Any PM presiding over a country forced into rationing, blackouts, or 3 or 4 day weeks will be accused of reducing Britain to the status of a ‘developing nation’.

Weak nations also tend to get kicked around even by ‘friends’. This week, Truss was forced to admit that there may be no trade deal with America for years. Remember: a deal with America was supposed to be the bedrock of Brexit. Yet negotiations aren’t even happening. It’s obvious what the cause is: Biden has made clear his unwavering commitment to the Northern Ireland protocol.

The Tory government has alienated every friend Britain had in Europe, and now America seems to have little or no time for its sidekick. Ahead of meeting Truss, Biden said he was “sick and tired of trickle-down economics. It’s never worked. We’re building an economy from the bottom up and the middle out.”


Now, whether America will successfully achieve some Roosevelt-style New Deal is neither here nor there. What matters is the President just dismissed everything Truss stands for economically. Significantly, Truss’s planned meeting with Biden in London during the Queen’s funeral was cancelled and rearranged for when she arrived in New York. Minions comes to masters, not the other way around.

I’ve spoken to plenty of diplomats about the Special Relationship over the years and they’ve all told me it’s a fantasy in Britain’s head. One recently went on the record when talking to me: Sylvie Bermann, the former French ambassador to Britain.

Here’s what she said: “The British are always saying that there’s a ‘special relationship’ between the UK and US, but in fact the special relationship is between the US and Ireland. [The special relationship] is something which is seen from London, it’s not seen from the US. There’s a delusion about the way the UK is perceived.”

Look! The waterfall is up ahead – and the idiots are in control of the boat.