Britain, facing economic crisis, pauses to mourn the queen

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LONDON (Reuters) – The death of Queen Elizabeth has stilled the business of state in Britain at a time when the government, Bank of England and companies are battling to contain inflation and mitigate a deep economic crisis.

New Prime Minister Liz Truss – appointed by the queen on Tuesday, just two days before she died – wasted no time to set out one of Britain’s biggest ever economic packages on Thursday, just as news emerged of the queen’s deteriorating health.

But since then a period of national mourning has been declared that will run until the funeral, with parliamentary business suspended for 13 days and the Bank of England delaying a critical interest rate decision by a week.

Across London, corporate and diplomatic meetings were cancelled while some major stores and theme parks shut as organisations struggled to find the right response to the death of a monarch for the first time in Britain for 70 years.

Premier League soccer matches were postponed, the second day of the men’s cricket test match was suspended, while a PGA golf event was shortened after it cancelled play on Friday then could not guarantee it would have the staff to continue on Monday.

The 96-year-old queen, Britain’s longest-reigning monarch, died on Thursday, at a time of already huge political and economic upheaval with the economy at risk of going into a lengthy recession later this year.

The Bank of England had been expected to raise interest rates next week to tackle inflation that hit 10.1% in July, a 40-year high and the highest of any leading rich nation.

SEVERE SITUATION

Truss’s support package, set to cost more than 100 billion pounds, was designed to protect households and businesses from the surging energy prices that have turbo-charged inflation. The measure had been delayed by a two-month hiatus while the governing Conservative Party elected a new leader.

Showing the severity of the situation, 40 billion pounds was also set aside to ensure energy firms did not run out of cash amid such volatile trading.

However economists have complained of a lack of detail and it is not now clear when an expected “fiscal event” will be held to set out the scale of the government borrowing required to fund the plan. Truss’s spokesperson said the policy would still come into force on Oct. 1.

Asked whether it was frustrating that parliament had to pause during such a critical time for the economy, one Conservative lawmaker who asked not to be named said it was but that parliament had to get things right.

“There is a general feeling that we need to deal respectfully with the funeral arrangements and therefore parliament does have to cease operations until then,” he said.

The late queen is likely to lie in state at parliament’s Westminster Hall while business is suspended in the days before her funeral, so lawmakers and the public can pay their respects.

On Friday lawmakers dressed in black reconvened in parliament to allow politicians from all parties to pay tribute to the late queen, delivering their speeches in the normally raucous chamber to a respectful silence.

A date for the funeral has not been set but it is expected in about 10 days time.

Leading the political response new prime minister Truss recalled how the last time Britain lost a monarch the then prime minister Winston Churchill spoke of the death stilling “the clatter and traffic of 20th century life in many lands”.

“Now, 70 years later, in the tumult of the 21st century, life has paused again,” she said.

($1 = 0.8645 pounds)

A poster in a London Underground station commemorating British Queen Elizabeth II in London, Britain. EPA-EFE/Tolga Akmen

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