Is the future of the United Kingdom at risk because the traditional Unionist parties have no explicit vision (manifesto-published or otherwise) about how their commitment to the Union is compatible with their plans for Brexit?
Such an important question is being squashed in the wider general election debate—which makes no sense at all, as Brexit is intrinsically linked with the future of the Union and the future of the Union is intrinsically linked with Brexit. Party leaders must address both in tandem, or we risk a huge political and constitutional rupture further down the line.
From the facts we already have, we can ask which leader has the best chance of providing political and constitutional symmetry on Brexit and the future of the Union. We can also ask which one leader would be catastrophic.
Boris Johnson, the self-appointed minister for the union, is pro-Union in name but his new EU Withdrawal Agreement may not be pro-Union in practice. It was little more than a year ago that Johnson told DUP conference delegates that he would not erect economic barriers in the Irish sea, as to do so would damage “the fabric of the union” and “leave Northern Ireland behind as an economic semi-colony of the EU.”
Yet now he is planning to erect precisely these same barriers. Scotland and Wales have also faced superficial gestures, only to suffer a Brexit negotiation process which has left them overruled by Westminster—contrary to good political practice, constitutional convention and respect for the devolved nations. There are also questions over what role Johnson envisions for England within the Union post-Brexit.
Nigel Farage has explicitly said that Brexit should be the “number one” priority, even if it means breaking up the Union. Ironically, the Brexit Party website states that Johnson’s new Withdrawal Agreement will divide the United Kingdom because of the proposed border down the Irish sea. The Brexit Party itself as yet has no manifesto position on the future of the Union, despitea surge of popularity among Scottish and Welsh voters in the European Parliament elections. Does this mean that it is an England-only party, and Farage’s main concern is England-only sovereignty?
The Union, and England’s role within it,has been inJeremy Corbyn’s thoughts. The Labour Party advocates a minister for England and also a relationship of equals with the…