#Brexit and constitutional disintegration

Northern Ireland actually voted, by 56% (so by a higher margin than Scotland rejected independence in 2014), to remain in the EU.

Its largest party did advocate a Leave vote relatively successfully. There were two fairly obvious things it did not do, however. First, it did not come up with any sort of contingency for the event of the UK leaving the European Union; and second, perhaps more remarkably, it appears to lack any plan for maintenance of the Union it pledges to support. While the DUP has its fingers in its ears, that second is now in very grave danger.

Let us make the obvious point: if I lived in Scotland I would have voted “no” in 2014 but would consider voting “yes” in 2018 should the UK proceed to leave the EU, and would do so without hesitation if it leaves the Single Market. I know many people who live in Scotland feel the same way, and it is hard to believe any are going the other way. As the chances of the UK remaining in the Single Market without remaining in the EU are extremely low (because doing so means not being able to “control borders”, in Leave-speak), the chances of Scotland leaving the UK even this decade are an order of magnitude greater than they were; and within my lifetime they must now exceed 50:50.

The 2014 Referendum established the clear convention that Scotland is a separate country of the UK, entitled to leave if a majority of the population so chooses, which was already generally accepted by the simple fact that it is a separate legal jurisdiction; subsequent amendments to devolution also established that its institutions of self-government may not be revoked by the UK Parliament. Scotland is, in other words, semi-sovereign, like any state or province of a federation. That is why it is so foolish to say “But the whole of the United Kingdom decided”; it is now constitutionally established that the United Kingdom is not a single entity, but a collection of entities.

Scotland’s potential (I would not yet say likely) departure from the UK would leave a rump dominated by an inward-looking, isolated, economically declining England and Wales with a weird semi-autonomous add-on in northeast Ireland relying heavily on financial subvention from an English Nationalist government no longer willing to provide it. Caught between the EU member states of the Republic of Ireland and Scotland, Northern Ireland would also wish to be in the EU, particularly as the subvention began to dry up without any access to EU funds for farmers, infrastructure or research. Its population would in any case be split between those of predominantly Scottish Presbyterian origin who found they no longer really identified with the new reduced UK, and those of predominantly Irish Catholic origin who may have tolerated the old UK but would find the new one completely alien. Discussions for Irish Unity, perhaps with a big package of ongoing funding from the EU to provide security and rebuild the economy, would be inevitable and tempting for many.

The 1998 Agreement as amended in 2006 already clearly gives Northern Ireland a separate status. This is similar to Scotland’s, in that it is a separate legal jurisdiction, it may vote to leave the UK if a majority so chooses, and its institutions may not be abolished by the UK Parliament. Like Scotland, it is semi-sovereign, with the added strand of cross-border bodies, consultation with the Irish Government and, most notably, the right of any of its people to be citizens of Ireland rather than the UK (Unionists often miss the distinction between resident and citizen).

These are the straightforward and likely facts. On top of that many people, usually professionals (Protestants included), will already have applied for Irish passports for themselves and their children to maximise their opportunities. They will know people who move South into new employment, notably in the new finance sector which will appear in Dublin if the UK leaves the Single Market. Even without Scottish independence, they will become more and more content with the notion of 21st century, socially liberal, secular Irishness and quite possibly less so with inward-looking English Nationalism.

Added to this will be Irish Nationalists themselves. Many were becoming quite content with post-Agreement Northern Ireland, in which they could be European and Irish citizens living in the UK, an EU member state, crossing the border with ease to live all-island lives with the supposed added benefits of the NHS and a subvention. However, this will all become a bit irritating if they no longer qualify for exchange schemes, holiday healthcare or R&D funding by virtue of the State they happen to (but would not ideally choose to) live in. It will become even more so if Health funding is gradually removed by a Brexit government which never much liked the idea of the NHS in the first place and the subvention for other public services declines. Such niggles, and very real problems, may make them look again at the practicalities of Irish unity, buoyed also by conversations they may be having with Professional Protestants looking at it for the first time.

Remember that £350m/week?

That is not the cost of the EU to the UK. But here is a thing: it is the cost, almost exactly, of Northern Ireland to Great Britain!

You needn’t think the English Nationalists who won the referendum haven’t noticed…

Just because you have no plan doesn’t mean things don’t happen. Just because you don’t intend for something to happen doesn’t mean your own stupidity won’t cause it to!

Whatever the timescale, the disintegration of the UK has begun. The fools.


4 thoughts on “#Brexit and constitutional disintegration

  1. Iain McKerrow says:

    As an Irish person living in England I am sceptical that “nationalism” played a very big part of the result. Clearly the EU is the “other” for English nationalists (in the same way that England or Britain is for Scottish or Irish ones) but don’t think that explains the outcome. I would say this has more to do with austerity and (to use the technical term) “crap jobs” replacing skilled ones in former industrial areas. One point I would also suggest is relevant is the differing levels of government spending per head in Scotland/NI in comparison to England/Wales. Austerity really has hit some communities very hard indeed. There is some real desperation out there and I think a lot of middle class in voters have had their consciences pricked.

    Not sure I understand the hysteria about passports. Unless you are actually planning on emigrating to a EU country, I doubt this will make much difference (even if you are it may not). Post Brexit UK passports are hardly going to be persona non grata.

    Having saId that I voted In and am depressed by the result mostly because as a linguist(and a former Erasmus student) I know that the UK is actually rather highly regarded by many European people (if not their elites) and we are walking away from many friends.

    Whether the economic consequences for the UK are positive or not will depend on the choices we make. Nor is it clear where the EU will go from here. For Scotland or Northern Ireland to reconsider their commitment to the UK (let alone swap the UK for the EU) because of this would be ill considered in my view.

    • I actually agree with much of that, by again we are back to unintended consequences.

      People may have been voting because of “crap jobs” (a broadly leftist vote), and I noted in a previous post that the average Leave voter does not look remotely like Boris Johnson – but the inevitable consequence was Farage, Hannan and Leadsom taking it as justification for their libertarian-right viewpoint, linking neatly to what is essentially English Nationalism.

      So the consequence will be a rightist English Nationalist government (not least since Labour is such a mess), whether that was most Leave voters intention or not.

  2. Iain McKerrow says:

    Hi Ian, yes, given the choice between having the referendum and not having it or having a different outcome I would definitely prefer not to be in this place of any available scenario. And your right Westminster seems to be in the worst possible place overall to cope This could be the perfect storm for the UK. Although, I see Andrea Leadsom’s economy speech seems to have bombed this morning. Hopefully as they gain exposure they Brexit max lot will be finally scrutinised properly and whoever does move in (presumably Theresa May) will start to put as many of the pieces together again…(one hopes!)

  3. […] of European affairs last month. It is even more peculiar because that very vote so obviously threatens the Union they claim to want to protect at all […]

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