It Is The UK That Will Breakup After Brexit, Not The European Union
On the future of the United Kingdom
With the general election campaign well underway, Brexit has taken somewhat of a backseat for the moment.
That’s not to say, it’s not still a talking point, it crops up daily, but for now, it is not front and centre as it has been for the past three and a half years.
This will not last.
When the dust has settled on 13 December and the political landscape is clear, Brexit will return once again.
When the result of the referendum result was announced on 24 June 2016, many commentators thought the result would usher in the breakup of the European Union.
Reports were that France, Italy and the Netherlands were lining up to hold referendums in the future. The cry was that Brexit would result in a chain of dominoes falling as country after country demanded a referendum on EU membership.
However, this has not come to pass. The laborious Brexit process has shown any country thinking of holding a referendum that it may not be worth the pain. The UK is close to self-destructing over the issue.
Due to the unique makeup of the UK, it may not be the EU that breaks apart, but the UK itself. The issue around Northern Ireland is sensitive. Any form of Brexit that necessitates a border between Northern Ireland and Ireland, or customs checks with the rest of the UK, could lead to Irish reunification.
Likewise, Scotland is edging closer to independence. Scotland voted to remain by 62% and is effectively being taken out of the EU against its will, which makes a mockery of the consistent claims of Brexit being the will of the people.
Even Wales is seeing a surge in the independence movement as a result of Brexit. What is becoming clear is that Brexit is an English movement and it could result in the UK splintering after 300 years of union.
The irony is that is all being orchestrated by the Conservative Pary, which is a firm supporter of the Union. The dream of Brexit has been deeply held for many years by some in the party ranks.
It seems the price of Brexit may be the end of the Union. For some, that may be a price worth paying to free themselves from the EU.
The End of the Union
Many thought Brexit would usher in a wave of countries rushing to hold similar referendums. The wave never materialised.
The UK has been gripped in a constitutional crisis ever since that fateful day in late June 2016. Paralysis over which route to take, deals voted against. Three and a half years after the vote, the end is still not in sight.
A Conservative majority in the upcoming election will see their deal passed by parliament, but that is not the end of the matter. It is only the end of the beginning. The real work starts in earnest.
The future relationship between the EU and the UK will be thrashed out afterwards. This ranges from trade deals, regulatory alignment to the UK’s participation in various science projects.
Despite the Conservative party’s insistence, this will be done when the transition period ends in December 2020 and does not require its extension to 2022. It will be a behemoth of a negotiation.
Anyone thinking Brexit will be done anytime soon will be bitterly disappointed. All of the wrangling and warring has started to tear the UK apart and it is becoming clear that if any union is to splinter it will be the UK’s, not the EU.
Scotland held its own referendum on independence in 2014, which resulted in 55% of voters in favour of remaining a part of the United Kingdom.
However, Scotland voted by 62% to remain in the EU. In effect, the people of Scotland are being taken out of the EU against their will. Clamours for another independence referendum has increased with the feeling that Westminster is not looking out for Scotland anymore.
With such an obvious disagreement between the people of Scotland and the direction the UK is taking, it seems inevitable there will be another referendum on Scottish independence at some point.
Support for the Scottish National Party has never been higher. The feeling of Westminster treating Scotland with contempt and as a hindrance could lead to independence being realised once and for all.
Northern Ireland is a trickier matter. The border with Ireland is currently free of border controls despite neither Ireland or the UK being in the Schengen Zone. The reason is due to the unique nature of Northern Ireland.
Partitioned in 1922, six of the 32 counties in Ireland remained a part of the United Kingdom. This was despite many people in Northern Ireland identifying as Irish rather than British.
This is what led to the troubles which raged from the 70s through the 90s until the Good Friday Agreement was signed in 1998. This declared that the people had a right to identify themselves as either Irish and British and removed the borders with Ireland to foster this attitude.
However, should the UK exit the EU without a deal, a hard border would need to return. This is because the UK would no longer be an EU member and Northern Ireland would represent a backdoor into the single market, through which goods could be smuggled.
Should a border be erected again, it could lead to a return of the violence that once plagued Northern Ireland. No sane person wants to see it return.
In this scenario, support for the UK could ebb away in Northern Ireland. A new generation has grown up without the troubles as a backdrop to their lives. They have grown up without a border, to return to one would diminish support for the UK.
It would lead to clamour for Northern Ireland to join the Republic of Ireland instead. Northern Ireland voted by 55% to remain in the EU, with the UK neglecting their responsibilities as set out in a legally binding international treaty, this would fuel support for reunification.
It’s a trickier case arguing that Brexit could result in Welsh independence. The independence movement in Wales has never been the strongest, but if Brexit turns out to be as bad as economists predict that could change.
Out of all the parts of the UK, Wales receives the most EU funding. Once the UK leaves, that funding will dry up. the onus will be on Westminster to divert funds to Wales, but there is no guarantee this will happen.
Wales did vote to leave by 52% to leave the EU, but if Scotland became independent and Northern Ireland joined Ireland, there could be a clamour to become an independent country than remain chained to England.
A survey in September 2019 found that 33% favoured independence, 48% did not and 20% did not. The potential is there for Wales to become an independent country, but there would need to be severe developments for it to become a popular policy.
For the time being, it seems the majority in Wales are happy to go along for the ride.
Taking Back Control?
The United Kingdom was formed in 1707 when the Acts of Union bonded England and Scotland together to form Great Britain. Ireland was added in 1800, while Wales had been considered a part of England since the 15th century when Henry VIII passed the Laws in Wales Acts.
Apart from Irish independence, the bonds have held firm for over 300 years. The results of the Scottish independence referendum seemed to confirm the union would continue, but Brexit has changed the dynamic.
The irony is that in the desire to leave one union it has been a part of for over 40 years, a much longer one could break apart.
The benefits of European Union membership benefited Scotland and Wales, while it allows there to be no border on the island of Ireland.
No one was contemplating the breakup of the UK after the result in 2016. It looked like the EU was in a more precarious position.
How times have changed.
While the EU has issues to deal with, they are in a position of strength. The mess that has ensued following the referendum result has increased popularity for the EU and member states to appreciate their membership more than ever.
A process which prominent figures on the Leave side said would be easy, has been anything but. The UK has been squeezed ever tighter in the vice-like grip of Brexit since 2016. Even with the possibility of a deal looming, that grip will not recede.
Independence from the EU has been the goal of figures such as Nigel Farage, John Redwood and Jacob Rees-Mogg for over 20 years. They are tantalisingly close to realising a goal they may have thought was impossible a long time ago.
While they get what they wish for, they may also get something which they did not bargain for. The price of leaving one union might be the breakup of another.