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British elections sharpen territorial tensions encouraged by Brexit

December 10, 2019

Scotland fuels independence and Northern Ireland, the debate on unification, facing England's fracture over divorce


The general elections of December 12 have activated the unpredictable spit of territorial frictions in the United Kingdom, posing a dilemma of greater constitutional significance to the citizenship than the Brexit monopoly, since what is at stake is the very continuity of a union with implications substantially deeper than that established with the continent 46 years ago.

The exit of the European Union in the 2016 referendum had initiated the puzzle that grips British cohesion, with two demarcations that had replicated the general verdict – England and Wales -, in front of the two that had rejected it – Scotland and North Ireland–. The real problem, however, would come next, in the form of a political drift that for three and a half years has acted as the breeding ground that has exacerbated the sovereignist anxieties that currently stir constitutional foundations of more than 300 years of history .

British elections sharpen territorial tensions encouraged by Brexit
British elections sharpen territorial tensions encouraged by Brexit

The origin of the yearning is common, but its transmission circulates through different branches. In Scotland, it is endogenous in nature, sponsored by a Scottish National Party (SNP) that considers Brexit a radical reversal of circumstances that justifies a new independence consultation. In Northern Ireland, on the contrary, the desire to unify with the neighboring republic has been paradoxically encouraged from London, with a solution for the EU divorce that accentuates the differences between the future Norwegian operational framework and that of the rest of the United Kingdom .

In this way, while England, the only one of the four territories without its own parliament, is split in half by the tearing caused by the break with the EU; Welsh nationalism, despite its lower presence in the political, social and institutional fabric, registers a gradual increase in support and sees the ongoing process as the beginning of a movement towards “building a spirit of independence” than the Plaid formation Cymru ('The Welsh Party', in Welsh) has placed at the center of its electoral program.


As a consequence, elections called to quell the Brexit fire have fueled the sovereignist flame, leaving serious questioning of the integration of the United Kingdom and encouraging a centrifugal dynamic that calls into question the very survival of the British union. Not surprisingly, the territorial bonfire has found the ideal flammable fuel in a toxic Conservative Party outside England, especially since the entry of Boris Johnson at Number 10.

Hence, the hegemony granted by the demonstration consensus threatens to encourage even more tensions, especially if the prime minister tries to adopt an imposted attitude of institutional deafness in the face of claims that, as 'premier', is bound to resolve as what they are: specific demands that respond to specific factors that have converged in their diversity through the Brexit crucible.


As evidence is Northern Ireland, despite the great protagonist of the community divorce. After going virtually unnoticed during the referendum campaign, he ended up embodying the dilemma on how to acquire commercial independence, without triggering the reinstatement of a hard border with the Republic of Ireland, the only land border that the British will share with the EU once the exit is consummated .

Unlike its predecessor, Theresa May, a unionist rather than a conservative, Johnson prioritized political pragmatism and, to break the blockade, admitted a customs barrier with Britain (England, Scotland and Wales): Northern Ireland will have to follow the tariff rules community and its regulatory protocols for food, agriculture and industrial goods; despite being, in practice, integrated into the post-Brexit United Kingdom customs territory.

The true repercussions, however, surpass the technicalities of the EU Withdrawal Agreement and affect difficult concepts to define, such as identity, feeling of belonging, or the weight of history. That is why the first duty assumed at the beginning of the rupture talks promised to respect the letter and spirit of the Good Friday Agreements, which in 1998 had established the peace process, the same reason that Brussels always considered this non-negotiable red line.

The feble stability in a society that still tries to heal decades of civil war and paramilitary activity intermingles with the political debate on the unification of the island. Johnson's Brexit will make Northern Ireland look more like its southern neighbor than the rest of the United Kingdom, which could disrupt the delicate balance of powers and decay the balance, even in the Westminster representation, in favor of those They yearn to join the republic.


Similarly, Thursday's result will have a profound impact on Scotland, especially since the hegemony that the polls anticipate for Boris Johnson threatens to polarize even more the disaffection towards London. The nationalists, who have ruled since 2007, hope to reissue a deed like that of the 2015 generals, when they had collected 56 of the 59 seats at stake, just eight months after the rejection of independence.

Its strong defense of continuity in the EU, supported by the Scottish electorate by 62 percent, together with the animosity caused by the community exit have given wings not only to their expectations for this December 12, but to the arguments used to legitimize a new sovereignist referendum: if the risk of losing the link with Brussels had deterred an important segment of citizenship from betting on secession, the Scots will end up seeing how the English electorate forces them into forced exile.

For everything, the SNP will know how to give a positive reading to any electoral map that leaves Thursday's vote: in the absence of majorities, the plebiscite would be the price of its support for supporting a Labor administration in Downing Street; while a comfortable victory for the 'tories' would reinforce his ammunition in the face of the pro-independence offensive that he plans to deploy before the elections expected in Scotland in 2021, which he plans to concur with the promise of a new consultation as the main argument.

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