Philip Rycroft worries that EU exit puts the integrity of the UK at riskby Alex Dean / November 13, 2019 / Leave a comment
Brexit has put the integrity of the United Kingdom under greater pressure than it has been in generations. Scotland and Northern Ireland, which both voted to Remain, are nonetheless being dragged out of Europe. A 55-45 win for Unionists in 2014 risks being overturned as the SNP pushes for a second Scottish independence referendum. Meanwhile the idea of Irish reunification is more live than ever as Johnson’s deal carves Northern Ireland off from mainland GB.
Can the Union survive? I sat down with Philip Rycroft, formerly one of Britain’s most senior civil servants, to get his take. From 2017 to 2019 he was permanent secretary in the Brexit department, making him the top-ranking official overseeing the government’s exit preparations (he left on 29th March, the first intended Brexit day). He was also head of the UK governance group in the cabinet office and prior to that served in a number of senior posts including in Scotland for many years, leading work on enterprise and education.
Sitting in the Prospect offices on a rainy Autumn evening he discussed the dangerous constitutional territory ahead.
Was he worried what Brexit could mean for the future of the UK? “Very much so. There’s no doubt that Brexit has been a profound shock to the United Kingdom, which was already under stress. Two parts of a four-part union voted to stay in the EU, but are likely now to be taken out of the EU essentially against their will.”
Does Brexit make Scottish independence more likely? “I think the chances of a second independence referendum have certainly gone up. If you look at the polls at the moment, Scotland is very much a nation divided. The numbers are at pretty much 50/50. So anybody trying to call the result of a referendum campaign that might be held in the next two or three years is being very brave indeed.”
Nicola Sturgeon, the Scottish first minister, has pushed independence relentlessly since the EU referendum and the demand is growing ever louder. Labour has said it would reluctantly grant another indyref in government. The last vote was only in 2014 but “the facts have changed, the world has changed. And that is giving people pause for thought in both Scotland and Northern Ireland… about their future in the UK.”
Moreover, Rycroft said, “the form of exit on current plans is hard Brexit,…