With Boris Johnson apparently set on initiating a no-deal Brexit, there are increased fears that the move could lead to the end of the United Kingdom.
The concerns come after a visit by Johnson to Scotland reignited the debate over whether that country may call for a new referendum to gain independence.
“A hard Brexit and a tanking of the UK economy could trigger a renewed effort to leave the UK,” says Dr Stephen Hoadley, Associate Professor of Politics and International Relations at the University of Auckland.
Dr Hoadley says such a scenario could potentially lead to other countries in the Kingdom also weighing up the benefits of leaving.
“The Irish and Welsh will certainly study the Scots’ example, but may pause to evaluate the longer-term consequences before moving explicitly to separate.”
Talk of the demise of the United Kingdom has been rife in Britain recently, with Scottish National Party leader Ian Blackford welcoming Johnson to the House of Commons as the “last prime minister of the United Kingdom” on Johnson’s first day in his new position.
Even if the impetus for independence builds, Dr Hoadley predicts it won’t happen right away.
“My gut feeling is that the Scottish nationalists will pause to see the consequences of Brexit before renewing their campaign, so separation won’t be imminent until at least next year, if then, “says Dr Hoadley.
The bureaucracy of the new political landscape would also complicate matters, forcing Scotland – and Ireland and Wales if they were also to break – to reapply to the EU for membership, something which would “delay accession and maybe dampened the enthusiasm of the leave camp”.
Scotland voted against gaining independence from the UK in a referendum in 2014. That was, however, before Brexit and the UK’s decision to leave the European Union. Although in the Brexit vote the UK as a whole voted to leave the EU, Scots firmly signalled their intention to stay a member of the bloc, voting 62 percent to 38 percent in favour of remaining.
Earlier this year, Scotland’s first minister Nicola Sturgeon said there should be a new referendum on independence from the UK if Britain leaves the EU. She has argued that the new EU situation changes things considerably, and Scotland should not be forced to leave the EU against its will.
Speaking to the Guardian this week, Sturgeon said a no-deal Brexit would be a “catastrophe for Scotland and indeed for the whole of the UK.”
“Behind all the bluff and bluster, this government and the path it is pursuing I think is dangerous,” Sturgeon said.
“I made it abundantly clear to Boris Johnson my opposition to Brexit and to a no-deal Brexit. I also made it clear to him that the people of Scotland should be able to chart their own course and choose their own future and not have that future imposed upon them.”
Johnson visited Scotland on Monday (local time), where he was booed and jeered at while walking on the streets towards the residence of the country’s first minister, reports the New York Times.
On the same visit, he told reporters he hoped to negotiate a better deal than anything offered by his predecessor Theresa May. This is despite EU officials saying there is no chance of renegotiation.
The UK must reach a deal by October 31. If the country fails to do so, it could face a so-called “no-deal Brexit”. In this case, the UK would leave the single-market EU overnight, with absolutely no agreement about what would follow.
It would also cease its membership to the many EU governing bodies, which determine the union’s regulations on everything from trademarks to medicines. Britain would also stop contributing an estimated £9 billion a year to the EU budget.
Johnson said such a situation is not his first option, telling reporters: “We are not aiming for a no-deal Brexit at all”.
That statement came, however, amongst reports he is gearing up for a massive advertising campaign to sell the no-deal option to the British public.
The campaign will be the biggest of its kind since the Second World War, according to the Telegraph, which quoted government sources as saying £100 million ($NZ186 million) was to be spent over the next three months.
“We are turbo-charging preparations for no-deal and that is now the government’s number one priority,” the UK’s Chief Secretary to the Treasure Rishi Sunak told the Telegraph.
According to the BBC, Britain now has three options if they want to avoid a no-deal Brexit: pass a Brexit plan into law, obtain another extension, or cancel Brexit.
Only time will tell which one they choose.