As a year comes to an end it is always good to look back at the major events of the past 12 months and the UK has certainly had more than its fair share, with some momentous changes both royally and politically, with the death of Her Majesty the Queen, in the same year as her Platinum Jubilee; accompanying three different Prime Ministers.
In addition there has been an involvement in the war in Ukraine; an easing in Covid restrictions after almost two years of massive disruptions, only to be threatened by a potential outbreak from a different virus; repeated heatwaves with record high temperatures; an on-going asylum problem; and a rapidly worsening cost of living crisis.
There was a change of fortune for the nation at the Eurovision song competition; but a usual disappointing ending at the year’s major sporting tournament.
The death of Queen Elizabeth II
The biggest story in the UK this year, and arguably anywhere involving any individual, was the sad passing of Her Majesty Queen Elizabeth II. She was the longest serving UK monarch – second only to Louis XIV of France as a reigning monarch in history anywhere – but had not enjoyed the best of health for some time, when on Thursday 8 September at 6.30pm Buckingham Palace announced that she had died peacefully at her Balmoral Estate in Scotland, with the official time of death later confirmed at 3.10pm.
What followed was just short of two solid weeks of continuous coverage in the build up to the state funeral on the morning of 19 September at Westminster Abbey, attended by heads of state from all around the world. Later in the day there was a private committal service at St George’s Chapel at Windsor Castle.
In the days leading up to the funeral Prince Charles was formally proclaimed as King Charles III, and Her Majesty’s coffin lay in state in Westminster Hall for four and a half days, as public mourners were allowed to file past to pay their respects. At one point the queue stretched beyond ten miles, with some having to wait upwards of 24 hours to see her. It was estimated that over a quarter of a million people attended the walk-through.
Earlier in the year, Queen Elizabeth had celebrated a significant milestone when she became the first UK monarch to reign for 70 years and to mark the occasion of her platinum jubilee, there was a long weekend of celebrations, concerts, activities, and a general “good feeling” enjoyed by the entire nation.
Beacons were lit, not just in towns and cities across the UK, but throughout the Commonwealth. Street parties were held, as millions acknowledged the wonderful commitment of the Queen, recognising her dedication to the role and outstanding service to the country.
It culminated with a wonderful sketch recorded with Paddington Bear, which went viral; although she was unable to attend a special Service at St Paul’s Cathedral after suffering discomfort whilst watching a spectacular flypast by the Red Arrows Display Team.
She was however, able to pass on a message of thanks to the public, stating how she was “humbled and deeply touched” by the celebrations in her honour that were held all over the UK.
Three Prime Ministers
The year began with Boris Johnson in charge and he would have fully expected to see the entire year out as the country’s leader. However, a series of controversies led to a spate of resignations from his government, including his Chancellor Rishi Sunak, which resulted in Mr Johnson’s position becoming impossible to continue and him having to resign.
The summer months saw a leadership battle develop between Sunak and Liz Truss, the then Foreign Secretary, with Ms Truss emerging the victor and she was formally appointed as PM by Elizabeth II in her last official act as Queen, at Balmoral Castle on 6 September – just two days before Her Majesty’s passing.
Her term as Prime Minister would last just 45 days, after some calamitous decisions, made along side her Chancellor Kwasi Kwarteng with regards to tax cuts, put the country on a collision course for financial disaster, as the markets went into melt-down.
She resigned and was replaced by Mr Sunak on 24 October, less than two months after he was comprehensively defeated in the election process. He became the UK’s first Asian PM and at the age of 42, he also became the country’s youngest leader in over 200 years.
Boris Johnson’s Party-Gate
An on-going theme for much of the early part of the year was the accusations, denials, apologies and police action, surrounding what became known as “Party-Gate”. It all centred around Boris Johnson, who finally admitted that he did indeed attend a party in the gardens at Number Ten Downing Street during the first lockdown in May 2020, when strict restrictions on mixing was in place. He offered a “heartfelt apology”, but opposition leaders demanded his resignation.
At the end of January, a report was published looking into parties being held in Downing Street at various stages of the Covid restrictions, which stated that some gatherings represented serious failures to observe the high standards expected. This was followed in March by notifications from the Metropolitan Police that 20 ‘Fixed Penalty Notices’ were being issued, and it transpired that amongst them were Mr Johnson, his wife Carrie Johnson, and his then Chancellor, Rishi Sunak.
That made Mr Johnson the first sitting Prime Minister to be sanctioned for breaking the law. He apologised again, insisting that he did not at the time realise he was breaching the rules. Although several other incidents would bring about his eventual resignation, there is no doubt that his role in the party-gate situation, was a major contributing factor in his downfall.
The ending of Covid restrictions
After two years of restrictions following the first wave of the Coronavirus in March 2020, the year began with the country still under the government’s rule of “Plan B”; but that came to an end on the 27 January, meaning that face coverings and Covid passes were no longer legally required.
Although the Omicron strain was still causing some concern, the success of the vaccination programme gave people renewed confidence and by mid April the self-isolation rules were removed completely. A spring booster programme, offering a fourth dosage to the over-75’s and the most vulnerable, added to the feeling of finally being able to live with the virus, and by the autumn the fourth vaccine was also being given to all the over-50’s.
Although obviously still present, the fear and alarm that Covid initially brought to the country, had all but been eradicated.
UK’s contribution to Ukraine
The UK has been the second largest military donor to the Ukraine cause, committing £2.3bn in 2022. They had been very much involved even before the conflict escalated into a full-blown war in February. Prior to the outbreak, elite British troops had been sent to assist the Ukrainian forces.
The UK responded to the Russian incursion by announcing sanctions on banks and individuals with links to the Kremlin, including Chelsea FC owner Roman Abramovich, which led to him giving up the stewardship of the club. Many Ukrainian refugees were taken in by UK families as the nation showed a united front in support of the besieged citizens of the illegally invaded country.
At various stages throughout a turbulent political year, the UK government repeatedly stated its commitment to the Ukraine cause, something new Prime Minister Rishi Sunak clarified immediately after his appointment in October. Indeed, his first call with a foreign leader upon him taking up his leadership duties, was with Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskyy, to whom he reassured the UK’s support would remain “as strong as ever under his premiership.”
Cost of Living Crisis
The war in Ukraine, coupled with the political upheaval in Westminster, contributed to the UK slipping into a worsening cost of living crisis as the year progressed. It was never far from the headlines, with supermarket prices rising alarmingly and then energy prices rocketing to astonishingly high levels, when the regulator Ofgem increased the price cap by a staggering 54%.
National Insurance went up, council tax rose, and there was the biggest hike in rental prices for social housing tenants for over a decade. In August inflation had risen to its highest in 40 years when it stood at 10.1%. In the same month the Bank of England raised its base interest rate from 1.25% to 1.75%, making it the biggest increase in 27 years.
The year ended with strikes by rail workers and nursing staff, as a feeling of discontent swept across the country. Just to rub salt into the wound, MP’s gave themselves a pay rise of £2,000 per year, taking salaries up to £84,000, and fuelling the country’s frustration.
Just as Covid worries were easing along came another virus to start people fearing of a similar situation starting up. It was in May when Public Health England informed the World Health Organisation that a case of Monkeypox had been detected in an individual who had been in Nigeria and that individual had been hospitalised and placed into isolation.
Cases started to be reported at quite an alarming rate, but thankfully after an initial panic, it did not have the wide-reaching impact that Covid did, because crucially it is in the main, a mild self-limiting illness, and only spread by very close contact with someone carrying the virus.
Most people recover within a few weeks, so once that message was relayed, any anxiety in the country quickly abated. Figures in early November indicated that there were just under 3,700 confirmed or highly probable cases of the virus in the UK.
The asylum seeker problem that has been an issue for many years, intensified in 2022 with thousands risking their life to cross the English Channel from the French coast, in small unsafe inflatable boats.
In April the UK came up with a plan to fly many of these migrants more than 4,000 miles to the African country of Rwanda. It was a heavily criticised plan, and the first flight due to leave on 14 June, was blocked at the last minute following legal challenges in the European Court of Human Rights.
By the end of the year none of the refugees had left for Africa, but an incident on 14 December heightened concern and drew calls for something to be done quickly, after four people died when their boat sank just off the English coast in the middle of the night.
Even news of this tragic event failed to put the asylum seekers off and they continue to risk their lives every day, as the UK government struggle to find a workable solution.
Climate change continues to effect the world and the UK has experienced some odd weather in the past 12 months. There has been an increase in violent storms with three in one week causing all sorts of damage in February, the middle one of which, given the name Storm Eunice, included the fastest wind gusts ever recorded in England, blowing at 122 miles per hour (196 km/h) on the Isle of Wight and led to red weather alerts being issued for the first time in London.
Then in the summer, the UK were ‘treated’ to one after another heatwaves. On 15 July a national emergency was declared after a red extreme heat warning was issued by the Met Office for London, the south east and parts of central England, indicating risk to life even among the fit and healthy. On the 19 July a temperature of 40.3°C was recorded at Coningsby, in Lincolnshire, which was a new record, beating the previous high of 38.7°C set in Cambridge in 2019.
Forecasters are predicting temperatures to match and possibly beat the record in 2023.
The UK didn’t quite win Eurovision
The annual humiliation that usually comes the UK’s way during the Eurovision Song Contest incredibly did not occur in 2022. In recent years the song, irrespective of its merit, has normally failed to gain any support in what is very often a political vote.
This year however, the entry called Space Man by Sm Ryder, seemed to strike a chord across the continent and actually won on the jury’s votes, but was knocked down to second spot by the public vote, who came out in support of the Ukrainian entry, as a show of unity against the Russian invasion.
It was the UK’s most successful outcome in the competition for 25 years. As a reward, and due to the on-going situation in Ukraine, it was decided that the 2023 competition should be held in the UK, and after a bidding process, Liverpool won the right to be the host city.
Sport plays a huge part in the lives of many Britons and as usual there were some real sporting highlights in 2022. The Commonwealth Games were held in Birmingham and were delivered brilliantly in the summer, with England performing outstandingly and finishing second on the medals table with a remarkable 176 medals, 97 of them gold.
Ronnie O’Sullivan equalled Stephen Hendry’s record of seven World Snooker Championship titles; Novak Djokovic won in four sets in the Wimbledon final, and Cameron Smith won the 150th British Open Golf Tournament at St Andrews.
The great Lester Piggott, nine-times an Epsom Derby winner sadly passed away, as did 1966 World Cup winner George Cohen – leaving only two surviving members of the most successful England team ever, in Geoff Hurst and Bobby Charlton.
Manchester City retained their Premier League title, but there was a story in the Championship which went slightly under the radar, which could have been incredibly sad, but which now seems on course for a happy ending. Derby County, one of the 12 original founder members of the football league, were found guilty of financial irregularities after the authorities appealed earlier decisions that cleared them twice. Seeing an opportunity, two fellow English Football League teams – Middlesborough and Wycombe Wanderers ruthlessly backed the club into a corner demanding unjust compensation, which put Derby into an impossible position, leading to them needing to go into administration and receiving in total a 21 point deduction.
Despite this they battled bravely all season, unable to spend any money, and ownerless, but they very nearly stayed up. After several collapsed deals, there was a genuine chance that the club would go out of existence, but at the eleventh hour a local businessman came to the rescue and although now in the third tier, they rallied at the end of the year and enter 2023 with renewed optimism of returning to the Championship at the first time of asking.
Obviously the major sporting event of 2022 was the World Cup over in Qatar and the UK’s two representatives – England and Wales – were ironically drawn in the same group. The English came through unscathed, but the Welsh went home early after a disappointing showing. After much promise, England fell in the Quarter-Finals to the French, who would go on to contest the final with Argentina, who inspired by their little magician Lionel Messi, won the competition in an exciting penalty shoot-out.