Brexit and the fragility of the U.K.


  • Delay in UK exit from Brexit strained the entire continent and the mighty British empire.

Reason for division of communities:

  • Highlighted divisions between the constituent nations of the United Kingdom of Great Britain and Northern Ireland, to use the formal name of the British state.
  • The U.K. is not one nation but four:
  • Wales was brought under English rule in the 13th century
  • Ireland was incorporated by a combination of military force.
  • Political persuasion in 1801 Scotland, though never militarily defeated, was persuaded to join the Union in 1707.

Reason for Scotland to join with Union:

  • The kingdom had suffered heavy financial losses from a disastrous to secure a trading base in the late 17th century.
  • The failure of the Darien Scheme, as it was known, was caused in no small part by resistance from Scotland’s southern neighbours who were protecting the trading rights of the East India Company.
  • Once within the Union, the colonial enterprise and then Empire offered not just wealth but all the trappings of great power.
  • The end of the Empire signalled Britain’s departure from the global stage. The Suez crisis of 1956 confirmed its diminished status. And Brexit, Britain’s retreat from its own continent, has completed the project.
  • Little England has withdrawn into itself to protect mythical ideas of Englishness against the supposed onslaught of waves of foreign immigration and EU rule.
  • Scottish nationalism has been simmering for years now, only partly placated by the devolution of some domestic powers to a Scottish Parliament under the Scotland Act of 1998.
  • A referendum on Scottish independence in 2014 ended up being a closer call than had been anticipated (55% vs 45%), though it was clear even then that part of the reason for remaining was that the U.K. offered membership of the EU (which was not automatically on offer for an independent Scotland).
  • Now, with Brexit looming, Scottish demands for independence resurface regularly.

A fragile peace:

  • A fragile peace, comprising complex intertwined agreements between first, most of Northern Ireland’s political parties.
  • The British and Irish governments to manage the relationships between Britain and Ireland, and between Northern Ireland and the rest of Britain.
  • Underpinning all of this is the dismantling of the border infrastructure — watch-towers, fences, checkposts — that had divided the island of Ireland.
  • This was only possible because both countries belonged to the EU.
  • If Britain leaves the customs union and single market of the EU, which guarantees the freedom of movement of people and goods between member states, then some sort of infrastructure will have to come up at the border between the EU and Britain in Ireland.


  • Peace in Northern Ireland is still in its infancy. The EU will not imperil this process by allowing a border to come up between Northern Ireland and Ireland.
  • The different status for Northern Ireland would effectively raise a border between the island of Ireland and the rest of Great Britain, something that is unacceptable to the Unionists and Ms. May.
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