Archive: No Deal/Threat to the Union

Posted on 2nd April, 2020

As the prospect of leaving the EU with no deal comes closer it is really important for everyone to face up to the likely consequences, all of them. One crucial question is whether the United Kingdom will disintegrate.


Northern Ireland voted to remain in the EU. After 30 years of violence, the Good Friday Agreement in 1998 brought an end to the Troubles. A key element helping this agreement to work is the fact that both the Republic of Ireland and the UK are members of the EU; this allows people and goods to pass freely between the two countries with no need for border checks. If, however, we leave the EU without a deal this will no longer be the case. It is widely feared that the Good Friday agreement would then unravel and violence return; during the Troubles over 3600 people died, including some 800 soldiers sent from the rest of Britain to be peace keepers.


In the event of no deal, a change to the status of Northern Ireland seems highly likely. The terms of the Good Friday agreement require the Secretary of State to call a referendum "if at any time it appears likely to him that a majority of those voting would express a wish that Northern Ireland should cease to be part of the United Kingdom and form part of a united Ireland".  Opinion polls suggest that, since the 2016 referendum, support for leaving the UK has risen from about 25% to nearly 50%. It is not enough to trigger a vote just now but many people predict that support would go well above 50% if we left the EU with no deal. In that case Northern Ireland would leave the United Kingdom.  


Scotland also voted to remain in the EU and this position is supported by its MPs in Westminster. So Scottish people would feel aggrieved if the UK government were to force them to leave. No deal, with all the economic hardship entailed, would add insult to injury. In 2014, Scotland held a referendum on independence from the UK; 45% voted for it, 55% against. However, First Minister Nicola Sturgeon has made it clear that if Scotland is taken out of the EU with no deal, the Scottish government will press for a second vote. Recent opinion polls suggest that in these circumstances the outcome would be in favour of independence. Scotland too would leave the UK and could possibly become an independent state within the EU, with customs posts along the border.


Scottish independence would set up pressures within Wales to follow suit. There would probably be a vote on Welsh independence. A Yes outcome would leave England on its own even though that is certainly not what people voted for in 2016.


As well as Prime Minister, Boris Johnson has given himself the incongruous title "Minister for the Union". It is time for all of us, himself included, to take our heads out of the sand, to forget the simplistic slogans and to think long and hard about the reality of what is about to happen to our country - if we don't stop it.


Roger Porkess

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