The emotional rupture is complete and the legal rupture will followby Jonathan Lis / January 24, 2020 / Leave a comment
Next week will mark the end of two unions. The first, the United Kingdom’s membership of the EU. The second, the United Kingdom itself. That is no unfortunate coincidence. The second is predicated on the first, and both are coming.
In each case, the effects will take a while to manifest themselves. We won’t notice any changes from Brexit for the first 11 months, and then likely a number of highly damaging consequences in quick succession. The break-up of the UK, meanwhile, will take place over years or generations. Scotland will be the first to separate. Wales and Northern Ireland may not in our lifetimes. Indeed, none of them may ever do so legally or constitutionally. And yet all will emotionally.
The evidence for the split has been accumulating since the Brexit referendum, and perhaps for a long time before that. In recent days, the Scottish Parliament, Senedd and newly gathered Northern Ireland Assembly have all voted against giving assent to the Withdrawal Agreement Bill. This is not mere symbolism. It matters. The directly elected legislatures of the three parts of the UK that are not England have all rejected the most significant constitutional change since Irish independence. The legislation they have opposed will have a profound impact on Britain’s politics, culture and above all, its economy. It has been granted assent by just one of the UK’s four elected parliaments. That is the House of Commons, a chamber constituted 82 per cent from England: an English parliament in all but name, and in all ways that count.
Britain has always fudged its national settlement. A political and emotional story which began with England’s conquest of Wales in 1284 has never been completed or resolved. The UK had no modern revolution, nationwide civil war or external coloniser to force it to define itself afresh. Every change, from England and Scotland’s 1707 Act of Union to 1990s devolution, has represented a slow, incremental addition to a centuries-old palimpsest. The UK is neither centrally governed nor federal, and sticks with the compromise. But a compromise can be a euphemism for a lie. Brexit has shown that devolution, in its current form, is not working.
That is no more strongly…