Johnson's Win May Fracture UK 12/14 09:59
LONDON (AP) -- Leaving the European Union is not the only split British
Prime Minister Boris Johnson has to worry about.
Johnson's commanding election victory this week may let him fulfil his
campaign promise to "get Brexit done," but it could also imperil the future of
the United Kingdom of England, Scotland, Wales and Northern Ireland. Scotland
and Northern Ireland didn't vote for Brexit, didn't embrace this week's
Conservative electoral landslide -- and now may be drifting permanently away
from their neighbors.
In a victory speech Friday, Johnson said the election result proved that
leaving the EU is "the irrefutable, irresistible, unarguable decision of the
Arguably, though, it isn't. It's the will of the English, who make up 56
million of the U.K.'s 66 million people. During Britain's 2016 referendum on EU
membership, England and much smaller Wales voted to leave bloc; Scotland and
Ireland didn't. In Thursday's election, England elected 345 Conservative
lawmakers --- all but 20 of the 365 House of Commons seats Johnson's party won
across the U.K.
In Scotland, 48 of the 59 seats were won by the Scottish National Party,
which opposes Brexit and wants Scotland to become independent of the U.K.
SNP leader Nicola Sturgeon said her party's "emphatic" victory showed that
"the kind of future desired by the majority in Scotland is different to that
chosen by the rest of the U.K."
The SNP has campaigned for decades to make Scotland independent and almost
succeeded in 2014, when Scotland held a referendum on seceding from the U.K.
The "remain" side won 55% to 45%.
At the time, the referendum was billed as a once-in-a-generation decision.
But the SNP argues that Brexit has changed everything because Scotland now
faces being dragged out of the EU against its will.
Sturgeon said Friday that Johnson "has no mandate whatsoever to take
Scotland out of the EU" and Scotland must be able to decide its future in a new
Johnson insists he will not approve a referendum during the current term of
Parliament, which is due to last until 2024. Johnson's office said the prime
minister told the Scottish leader on Friday that "the result of the 2014
referendum was decisive and should be respected."
The Scotsman newspaper summed up the showdown Saturday with front page
face-to-face images of Sturgeon and Johnson: "Two landslides. One collision
"What we've got now is pretty close to a perfect storm," said historian Tom
Devine, professor emeritus at the University of Edinburgh. He said the U.K. is
facing an "unprecedented constitutional crisis" as Johnson's intransigence
fuels growing momentum for Scottish independence.
Politically and legally, it's a stalemate. Without the approval of the U.K.
government, a referendum would not be legally binding. London could simply
ignore the result, as the Spanish government did when Catalonia held an
unauthorized independence vote in 2017.
Mark Diffley, an Edinburgh-based political analyst, said Sturgeon "has said
that she doesn't want a Catalonia-style referendum. She wants to do this
There's no clear legal route to a second referendum if Johnson refuses,
though Sturgeon can apply political and moral pressure. Diffley said the size
of the SNP's win allows Sturgeon to argue that a new referendum is "the will of
Sturgeon said that next week she will lay out a "detailed democratic case
for a transfer of power to enable a referendum to be put beyond legal
Devine said the administrations in Edinburgh and London "are in a completely
uncompromising condition" and that will only make the crisis worse.
"The longer Johnson refuses to concede a referendum, the greater will the
pro-independence momentum in Scotland accelerate," he said. "By refusing to
concede it, Johnson has ironically become a recruiting sergeant for increased
Northern Ireland has its own set of political parties and structures largely
split along British unionist/Irish nationalist lines. There, too, people feel
cast adrift by Brexit, and the political plates are shifting.
For the first time this week, Northern Ireland elected more lawmakers who
favor union with Ireland than want to remain part of the U.K.
The island of Ireland, which holds the U.K.'s only land border with the EU,
has proved the most difficult issue in Brexit negotiations. Any customs checks
or other obstacles along the currently invisible frontier between Northern
Ireland and EU member Ireland would undermine both the local economy and
Northern Ireland's peace process.
The divorce deal struck between Johnson and the EU seeks to avoid a hard
border by keeping Northern Ireland closely aligned to EU rules, which means new
checks on goods moving between Northern Ireland and the rest of the U.K.
"Once you put a border between Northern Ireland and the rest of the United
Kingdom, Northern Ireland's going to be part of a united Ireland for economic
purposes," Jonathan Powell, who helped negotiate Northern Ireland's 1998 peace
accord, told the BBC. "That will increase the tendency toward a united Ireland
for political reasons, too.
"I think there is a good chance there will be a united Ireland within 10
In Scotland, Devine also thinks the days of the Union may be numbered.
"Anything can happen," he said. "But I think it's more likely than not that
the U.K. will come to an end over the next 20 to 30 years."