In a fit of pique at the Brexit vote, the Dutch Prime Minister Mark Rutte told MEPs last July that Britain had “collapsed – politically, economically, monetarily and constitutionally”.
Embarrassingly for him, events have proven otherwise, with the UK posting the strongest growth in the G7 in the final quarter of 2016, the Bank of England still very much in control, and most Scots firmly against a second independence referendum. In politics, Britain is an oasis of stability. Whoever wins the Copeland and Stoke Central by-elections, Theresa May’s position as Prime Minister is unassailable.
The contrast with the situation in Europe could not be more marked. In the Netherlands itself, elections next month are likely to result in astonishing fragmentation as voters turn their backs on mainstream politics and opt for a constellation of splinter groups and single-issue parties. The subsequent governing coalition may not include anti-EU Geert Wilders, but stability will be in short supply.
In France, the political situation is just as fluid. Despite centrist Emmanuel Macron picking up support, betting markets place his chances of winning the Elysee Palace as roughly equal to those of both conservative Francois Fillon and the Front National’s Marine Le Pen. If any one of these sharply different candidates could reasonably win, is it any wonder investors are taking fright?
Even in Germany, the likelihood that Angela Merkel will be ejected as Chancellor in elections this year is rising. It is increasingly possible that Socialist Martin Schulz, who has expressed support for rolling back the country’s successful labour market reforms, could take her place, even in coalition with the far-left Die Linke Party.
City broker Charles Stanley yesterday launched a political stability index, an estimate of political risk based on the polling share of the two main traditional parties. The UK emerges as the most stable in Europe with 67 per cent, while France languishes at 49 per cent, below the 50 per cent mark judged to indicate political crisis.
It is not a perfect measure: Trump’s America scores 91 per cent, presumably driven in part by poisonous hyper-partisanship and gerrymandering. Each of these countries has very different electoral systems, and stability itself is not necessarily a sign of a healthy political system. But European politicians still confident that Brexit will prove a disaster should put their own houses in order before they cast judgement on Britain.