Is Brexit threatening to fracture the Union of the UK?
From Northern Ireland, to Scotland, to ‘Project-Fear Park’ in Kent. Will Brexit come to destroy the union of the four nations?
Words by William Cooper.
The union of the United Kingdom has been formed over hundreds of years and is a deeply fused and respected alliance between the four nations. In 1603, Scotland became part of the United Kingdom due to the ascension of James VI. In 1801, Wales became a part of the UK, and in 1921 Northern Ireland joined, to create the union that exists today.
This union between these four interconnected nations is so strong that many cannot point out where the internal borders between these four nations exist on a map. Such is the beauty of the British Isles. However, this union is coming under threat, and its perceived steadfastness is becoming strained.
Brexit has had many consequences in the UK; some will not be fully felt for years to come, whereas others are being felt as we speak. In terms of the union, Brexit has caused a great divide between the four nations.
And now as the government surrender their optimistic, Brexiteer rhetoric, and instead begin to brace the nation for the collision course it is about to embark on, people are beginning to see through the government’s smoke and mirrors approach to the most complicated and important stage Brexit so far.
The most contested issue of the entire Brexit debate has always been the debate over the role of the Ulster counties that make up Northern Ireland. Geographically separated from the rest of the UK, and bordering on the EU member state, the Republic of Ireland, Northern Ireland has always been viewed as the thorn in the UK’s side when setting its Brexit agenda. Indeed, in the 2016 referendum, Northern Ireland voted in favour of remain, by 51.8% to 44.2%.
Talks of a hard border between Northern Ireland and the Republic of Ireland have always been denied by both the government and the general public, especially those who are old enough to remember such times as the Troubles in the late 20th Century, and the Good Friday Agreement which brought them to an end in 1998. A hard border between the two nations which share so much historical hostility will only make past events more likely to reoccur.
In early July, the government submitted a formal request to the EU to establish border checkpoints in Northern Irish ports. These Border Control Posts (BCPs) will be facilities where livestock and food entering the EU single market, which Northern Ireland will remain a part of, will be checked.
This is a major concession by the government, who have always been opposed to the UK being any part of the EU single market. However, the logistics of the alternatives are far too complicated and risky to impose, and so Northern Ireland will remain a member of the EU single market, therefore creating a border between the UK and the EU down the Irish Sea.
In addition to this, also in early July, the government expressed their wishes to strike a deal with the EU over Northern Ireland’s food supply. They have asked to seek “special provisions” with the EU to allow composite lorries, containing food for both Northern Ireland and the rest of the UK, to enter Northern Ireland.
As Northern Ireland will remain part of the EU single market, but the rest of the UK will not, any lorries coming to Northern Ireland from the UK mainland will be permitted to only carry food destined for Northern Ireland, and not of the UK, because it is entering a market where the UK have no jurisdiction. However, the government are asking that these lorries be allowed to carry food destined for both Northern Ireland and the UK mainland to enter the Ulster in order to prevent delays, checks, potential rise in food prices, and unnecessary use of more lorries.
These two concessions by the government present a large problem that still have not been amended. How can the government exert control over Northern Ireland, without themselves being involved in the EU single market?
It has already been established that Northern Ireland will remain in the EU single market, so how can the UK still keep the union between the Ulster and Great Britain, but also keep its promise of breaking clean from the EU single market? The answer is, it can’t, unless it fractures the union…
Scotland has always been a devolved part of the UK. It has retained its heritage and cultural history; self-governing to a great degree since it joined the Union. The nation was strongly in favour of remain in the 2016 referendum, with a majority vote of 62%.
This commitment to the EU has resurfaced recently, as the Scottish government have threatened to defy Westminster in a proposed legislation to be put through the House of Commons which will give Westminster unilateral authority to set environmental and food standards across the entirety of the UK. This essentially will give Westminster complete control of the UK’s internal market and its standards; which the Scottish devolved government have said they will take Westminster to court over if the legislation is passed.
This new legislation will force Scotland and Wales to accept these new standards imposed upon them, which were once controlled by Brussels; now desired by Westminster. The UK government have been in trade discussions with such nations as the USA, who are attempting to export such products as chlorinated chicken and hormone-treated beef to the UK, which are subject to far lower welfare standards than the EU ever had.
Therefore, it can be expected that such devolved parliaments in Scotland and Wales (Northern Ireland will remain subject to EU regulations) want to be able to influence the acceptance of standards, and potentially try to halt them altogether.
Even within England itself, there is clear resentment over the preparations that the government are making for when the UK fully detaches from the EU on 1st January 2021. In Kent, 20 miles from the port of Dover, the government have secretly acquired a 27-acre space for a ‘customs clearance centre’ which some are calling ‘Project-Fear park’.
This 1.2 million square feet field, just off the M20, has been given B8 planning permission (specifically for storage and distribution), and will be the location that hundreds of lorries will come to everyday from the EU, where they will individually checked to ensure they meet the UK’s import regulations.
This project, the plans of which the Ashford local council were not informed about until the day construction began, is part of an extra £705 million package from the government to implement a new ‘Brexit border’. This will include new IT systems, over 500 new Border Force officials, and indeed, more ‘custom clearance centres’.
The entirety of the new ‘Brexit border’ is fraught with complications and difficulties, and Ashford is merely the tip of the iceberg. This ‘centre’ is just for the port of the Dover, which is 20 miles away from the centre itself. From this, two points arise. Firstly, every major port around the UK will need to create these ‘centres’ in order to replicate the same customs checks on all goods coming from the EU. This is to ensure that trade with the EU can continue at its current rate as smoothly as possible. No expansion of trade can even be conceived until the current level of trade can pass through these ports and ‘centres’ efficiently.
Secondly, being 20 miles from the port of Dover itself, how are all the lorries meant to get from the port to the ‘centre’ without causing major delays on the M20, and further delays in the surrounding area? It is not just a matter of building lorry parks across the UK.
If the government wants to make Brexit a success (‘If’ being the operative word), then they will need to completely transform the entire British landscape. Motorways will need to be expanded for special HGV lanes, woodlands and barren land will need to be transformed into Border Control hubs, and thousands of people will need to be contracted in to operate these hubs. To make Brexit a success, the entire British population will need to be mobilised. And this is to ensure that everything runs as smoothly as it did before 1st February 2020.
From being a valued member of the most intricate, influential trading bloc in the world, to effectively turning the UK into a 93,000 sq. mile lorry park. My, how far we’ve fallen…
But don’t think about that. Just think about one thing.
Get Brexit Done (God I hate that phrase!)