In the immediate aftermath of the UK leaving the EU, one thing immediately became clear. Where England and Wales had voted to leave, Scotland resoundingly voted to remain. Northern Ireland followed suit, with the majority of its citizens voting to remain. So, what now? Do these two countries break away from the UK and go it alone?
The question of whether Scotland could go it alone was widely debated in 2014 and, in the end, the Scottish people decided they didn’t want to go it alone. Following the Brexit vote, Nicola Sturgeon traveled to Brussels to speak to EU leaders regarding Scotland’s potential future in the EU. Her talks appear to have had been shot down early on though, as the leaders of France and Spain have both said that they will only speak to the designated leader of the UK, not that of Scotland by itself. The Spanish prime minister has said that the Scottish government doesn’t have any competence to negotiate remaining in the EU by itself.
Sturgeon may have a way around this, however: she could call a second independence referendum. This has already been discussed. Sturgeon has called it “democratically unacceptable” that Scotland should leave the EU because other countries voted to leave the organization.
If Scotland were to become independent and leave the UK, they would have to negotiate their way back into the EU from scratch. This would take 2-3 years at least, plus the time for the referendum itself to take place. Given the UK is due to formally leave the EU in late 2017, it would probably be until at least 2020 before an independent Scotland would rejoin the EU again.
Unlike Scotland, there is no real possibility that Northern Ireland could become a totally independent nation. Instead, there is a previously unprecedented possibility that Northern Ireland and the Republic of Ireland could unite. This would be subject to another referendum but Northern Ireland has become distanced from the UK as a result the EU referendum. How far distanced remains the big question.
If Northern Ireland were to hold a unification referendum, it would likely be much closer than a Scottish referendum could be. This is because there is still loyalty to the UK in Northern Ireland, despite the EU referendum. Another problem with an Irish unification is the sheer amount of history that has divided the two nations in the past. Could all this really be swept under the carpet for the sake of EU membership?
The vote to leave the EU has defiantly created a bigger divide between Scotland and England and Wales. The independence referendum only came down to a 10% difference, so will those people who voted to remain in the EU feel hard done by the result? There is a very good chance that they will and there is now a greater chance than ever of an independent Scotland. Sturgeon has said she will try to find any way to keep Scotland in the EU without a referendum, which would divide British politics even more (not something anyone needs right now). With the leaders of France and Spain refusing to talk with Sturgeon about membership, it seems that Scotland will have to become independent if it is serious about re-joining the EU.
If Northern Ireland became part of Ireland, they would re-join the EU. A referendum here would be almost as divisive as a Scottish referendum but it seems less likely to happen owing to the history between Northern Ireland and the Republic of Ireland.
Image credit: flickr.com/simonpeyda