While most people are focused on the current Brexit situation of the UK leaving the EU, fear of another potential breakup is growing: the idea that the UK could disintegrate after Brexit is complete.
The Brexit campaign and resulting negotiations have divided the UK, and a new poll shows that the majority of Britons believe Brexit increases the changes of the UK breaking apart. In total, 54% of people think the Brexit vote made a breakup more likely.
Scotland Leading the Charge
Scots led the poll with 63% saying they think a breakup is likely. Nicola Sturgeon, Scotland’s first minister, recently said there is a “cast-iron mandate” for a new referendum on Scottish independence, an issue that has come to light in the last few years.
“The vote must take place within a timeframe to allow an informed choice to be made, when the terms of Brexit are clear but before the UK leaves the European Union or shortly afterwards,” Sturgeon said.
The Scottish National Party has stated it hopes to stage a referendum on independence between fall 2018 and spring 2019. The last vote for Scottish independence occurred in 2014, when Scots voted 55% to 45% to stay in the UK. The campaign was contentious and led to the rise of the SNP, a proponent for Scottish independence.
With recent changes in the region, a new referendum vote is expected to be much closer; a recent poll predicted it would be 47% in favor of independence and 44% against. Scots have traditionally been pro-Europe, meaning that many opted to stay in the UK because it meant staying in the EU. However, with the UK soon to be out of the EU, those voters could change their mind and support independence.
Scotland would face a number of issues if it voted for independence. Among them would be economic concerns, especially since oil sales, which would fuel a large part of the economy, have dropped drastically in the last few years.
While Scotland may pose the most immediate threat, that’s not to say that other UK constituents couldn’t also vote to leave. Northern Ireland seems the next likely to leave, though it probably wouldn’t be up for a vote for a few decades.
After years of violence between Ireland and Northern Ireland, the countries put aside their difference and essentially didn’t have any borders between them when both were a part of the EU. With that changing and a history of discontent with the UK, some experts warn Northern Ireland could be looking for a way out.
Wales has generally been on the side of the UK, with less than 5% of people saying they want to leave the UK. However, the area has received lots of benefits and funding from the EU, so that mindset could change after Brexit.
England, which many view as the heart of the UK because of its central location and large population, has legitimate concerns over immigration and finances after Brexit.
London particularly has the most to lose economically from leaving the EU, but many other smaller English towns receive substantial EU funding and subsidies. Although Brexit could cause come contention and discontent in those areas, it seems quite unlikely that England would put aside years of tradition to leave the UK.
Attempts for Unity
Sensing that various groups and countries could try to break away, UK prime minister Theresa May is planning a trip to Wales, Scotland, and Northern Ireland before she puts Article 50 into effect that officially removes the UK from the EU.
May has repeatedly stated that the Scottish referendum should wait, and she hopes her upcoming tour will build unity and gather support for Brexit.
Brexit opens the door for the great unknown, and much could change in the region in the coming years. As the UK prepares for its historic departure, it should also keep an eye on what is happening within its own borders.