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By Jason Michael
Once upon a time the United Kingdom was just that, united. But like all bad marriages it is fast coming to an end. England’s little Brexit rocket ship to the Moon can’t get where it wants to go without first ridding itself of excess weight.
Whether we are looking down the barrel of the complete disintegration of the United Kingdom or a controlled legislative decentralisation towards federalism or something in between, it is clear we are living in the last days of Great Britain and Northern Ireland as the UK. “Team GB” has taken an almighty hammering over the past week in Europe, and no matter how hard the extreme British nationalists – the “Brexiteers” – try to claim the latest provisional agreement(s) as a victory the cold indelicate and incontrovertible facts of the matter remain; Northern Ireland will effectively remain part of the European Union, the European Court of Justice will retain power over British law for another eight years, and the UK has committed to settle its £39 billion divorce bill. In the event that a deal is not made over the Irish border, regulatory alignment will be maintained – forcing the UK to abide by EU law indefinitely.
Theresa May has conceded every point of her so-called “hard Brexit” dogma to the European side, hoisting Britain’s ambitions on its own petard. What this means in real terms is that the wall the Brexiteers were hoping to construct around their new Fortress Britain will now have the impenetrability of a teabag. Their hard Brexit – except in a worst case no-deal, no-trade agreement scenario – is dead in the water. What is more is that EU negotiators have now promised to put an offer on the table allowing every British national to opt-in to EU citizenship after Brexit, a move that completely undermines the Westphalian settlement; the very notion of British sovereignty over its own citizens. Britain’s Brexit lifeboat has just been scuppered, and – as if to add insult to injury – the EU is inviting Britons to do this to their own state.
The Brexit referendum was the first time in the history of Northern Ireland the bitter sectarian divide was ignored at the polls, with a clear majority opting to remain in the EU. Taken with the levelling of the province’s population to almost fifty-fifty and the fact most unionists and nationalists want to keep the Good Friday Agreement intact, the prospect of its reunification with the rest of Ireland looks to be imminent. More people in the north now want Irish unity than do not. All the island is waiting for now is for the terms of the GFA to be honoured and for the Northern Ireland Secretary to call a border poll.
Much the same, without the sectarian divide and the special arrangement of its own GFA, is true in Scotland. Between the September 2014 and June 2016 referenda support for independence continued to remain high – somewhere in the region of 48 to 60 per cent. The chaos unleashed by Brexit, by a London government that promised “strong and stable” leadership, has caused Scots – who voted overwhelmingly to remain in the EU in 2016 – to think long and hard about their future. Beyond questions of nationality and the constitution voters will vote in their best interests, and as Brexit takes shape it is becoming ever more apparent to Scotland that its three hundred year and ten year old union with England is fast passing its sell by date.
In Wales too we are seeing a similar shift. True, the Welsh voted with England to leave the EU, but as Labour in Wales and Plaid Cymru are saying; the Welsh did not vote for the Brexit the British government is now imposing on them. If indeed Brexit is the litmus test for the future of British unity then Labour in Wales – everywhere else in the country a staunchly unionist outfit – is thinking seriously about crossing the floor. Sure, things have gotten so bad that even London is looking for an out.
States simply do not survive this level of internal division, and – as we can see from the headlines on every newspaper – Britain is no exception. The very forces that held the United Kingdom together in the past; a strong English state, a sense of shared hostility towards everything on the other side of the English Channel, and England’s willingness to exert brute force on its possessions, are now wholly evaporated. The dominant opinion both here and around the world is that England is in a tailspin, the centrifugal force of which is pushing Scotland, Northern Ireland, and Wales out. This push is of course being met with pull factors in these countries. Regardless of the opinion of Northern Ireland’s unionists, the economic and legislative gap between them and the rUK will increase to the point where the question of Irish unity will be put to the Irish people. Ireland is unifying, and this deal between the UK and the EU merely hurries that along.
It is unimaginable that another independence referendum will not now be given to Scotland. Northern Ireland will be an exception to a rule being foisted on Scots against their will, and Scotland’s failure to insist on its own right to be heard will be tantamount to the full capitulation of Scottish nationhood. With about half the population demanding independence – even before the start of a referendum campaign – this is not going to be allowed to happen. Considering the dire outlook for the Scottish economy divorced from the EU, another No vote would be nothing less than an act of national and socio-economic suicide. Thus, the most likely outcome of another referendum in Scotland will be the decision to become an independent state.
All of this leaves Wales in a queer position. How British do the Welsh really feel, and how British will they feel when Scotland and Northern Ireland have gone? What is interesting is that support for independence in Wales is in fact rising. The proportion of Welsh people wanting to leave the United Kingdom is now as high as support for independence in Scotland was before 2012. Under the right conditions the Welsh too will go the way of the Irish and the Scots.
A few years ago the breakup of the UK was at best a hypothetical thought experiment. Now in December 2017, after one close-call independence referendum in Scotland and more constitutional crises than we can count on the fingers of one hand, the most difficult thing to imagine is a scenario in which Britain gets through Brexit and remains united. Brexit has become England’s isolationist rocket to the Moon, but it can’t escape Earth without first jettisoning its fuel tanks. What is most happy for little England is that its fuel tanks really want to be ditched.
The Price of Brexit: The Break Up of Britain?
5 thoughts on “It’s Official: The End is Nigh for Great Britain”
This article brings me much reason for good cheer!
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Aye. Stuck her in exile ten miles south of the border I needed to read this.
Please just let the whole rotten structure collapse now, we just need the final shock to bring the collapse. What’s it going to be?
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It’s perhaps worth remembering that Wales was for centuries totally absorbed into the English system, unlike Scotland which retained its legal system and was at least in theory one half of the bipartite ‘Great Britain’. The Welsh had to depend on their language and culture rather than official bodies to keep their identity as a nation intact. Most of their distinctive institutions and organisations, I was surprised to learn, only developed within the past century, indeed many only since the 1950’s or later, often out of protest movements. Even now their ‘assembly’ is only beginning to consider becoming a ‘parliament/senedd’.
So in short, they’ve had a lot further to go, politically and institutionally, than Scotland. We can only wish them well and hope they move fast enough. Otherwise they might find themselves trapped, enfolded in the xenophobic embrace of Brexit England. Hardly a pleasant thought.
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There is a Treaty of Union between Scotland and England, both internationally and legally recognised Nation States at the time. Sadly for Wales it never achieved such status and is fobbed off as a Principality of England.
Which in the modern era is very wrong really. Another historic wrong that needs righted.