IRISH reunification and Scottish independence have become increasingly likely one year on from the Brexit vote, according to leading academics.
Border issues and the DUP’s fledgling deal with the British Government risk alienating Northern Ireland’s nationalist community, prompting sustained agitation for a reunification referendum, the professors from Queen’s University in Belfast said.
Meanwhile, a Westminster “power grab” of Scottish devolved competences “may provoke further moves towards independence in Scotland”, fellow experts said.
Nicola Sturgeon is expected to reveal her revised strategy for a second Scottish independence referendum in the coming days — but Brexit Minister Mike Russell yesterday told an audience at the Irish Consulate in Edinburgh that the Scottish Government’s vision of an independent Scotland in Europe “has not changed”.
At the same event, Ireland’s Consul General in Scotland Dr Mark Hannify warned potential border tensions thrown up by Brexit “will necessarily have consequences for how people view the political situation in Ireland”.
In a major publication to mark tomorrow’s anniversary of the EU referendum, Queen’s University professors John Garry and Colin Harvey said the DUP will be in “pole position to shape the border regime” in Ireland if it strikes a deal with Theresa May’s government.
They said: “A danger for the DUP, and for unionism in general, is alienating the nationalist community even further, to such an extent that they begin agitating in a sustained way for a referendum on a united Ireland to facilitate the ‘return’ of Northern Ireland to the EU on an all-island basis.
“The fact that nationalists in Northern Ireland have now effectively voted to turn their backs on Westminster politics is a clear warning of where politics may go in the not-too-distant future.”
They added: “With both nationalist parties [Sinn Féin and the SDLP] now pursuing this more firmly on the agenda, and with the major gains for Sinn Féin in the Westminster election and the elections to the Northern Ireland Assembly in March 2017, the likelihood it will occur has increased.”
Dr Hannify said “the sense of separation between north and south of the border was lessened” by the abolition of border controls in 1992.
He warned: “If that goes into reverse, then that will necessarily have consequences for how people view the political situation in Ireland, and that is something that we very much wish to avoid.”
Dr Hannify said any Brexit deal that disrupted the social, political and economic ties that have developed along the border regions would be “unacceptable” to the Republic of Ireland government.”
Meanwhile, in the Brexit paper, academics acknowledge that Scottish public opinion currently lies in a constitutional quandary of desiring more powers short of independence, and membership of both the EU and the UK.
Michael Keating, of the University of Aberdeen, said: “Brexit therefore presents a severe challenge to the UK’s evolving constitution.”
He added: “The issue could be resolved by the UK breaking up, with Scotland and Northern Ireland remaining in the EU.
“Alternatively, it could be resolved by the UK Government imposing its will and leaving the EU on terms set by itself.
“The result of the general election suggests that neither the UK Government, with its unitary view of the constitution, nor the Scottish or Irish nationalists, are strong enough to allow either of these to happen. Instead, Brexit will remain entwined in the changing constitutional politics of the UK.”
But Jo Hunt, of Cardiff University, said the perception of a Westminster “power grab” of devolved competences could be viewed as a betrayal of the devolution settlement.
“The opportunities for the devolved parliaments and governments to feed into this (post-Brexit) law-making process are very limited, despite the critical significance it will have for them and their powers.”
The Supreme Court ruling that the legislative consent motion, designed to deter Westminster from enforcing laws on Scotland, had no legal force is a further source of tension.
“Any resulting constitutional clash over powers may provoke further moves towards independence in Scotland,” she said.
She added: “The UK Government will be going into the Brexit negotiations with disunity at home, which may ultimately prove more than an unwelcome distraction.”