THE FAILURE of the UK Government over the last four years to resolve the Brexit impasse – coupled with its incoherent response to the Covid pandemic – has clearly provided ammunition for Scottish nationalists. Every opportunity to nurse a grievance comes before doing the real task of handling its own responsibilities.
After failing to break the deadlock in Brussels, the EU and UK set Sunday as the new quasi-deadline for a post-Brexit deal. As I argued in last week’s Telegraph however, the EU no doubt believes that if No-deal was seriously being contemplated by Boris Johnson then the UK would have walked by now. Typically, Sunday came and went and we are now getting briefed reports that negotiations may go to the end of the year and the spectre of a mini-extension to allow ‘tidying up any detail’ is being raised again.
Crucially, the news the UK is willing to remove or nullify the impact of parts of the Internal Market Bill dealing with export declarations and state aid cements the impression No-deal is not seriously being contemplated. Brussels will be aware the Withdrawal Agreement and Northern Ireland Protocol incentivise a deal – for only if a close relationship is agreed between Brussels and London can the ill-effects of the Protocol be masked. We know a deal has been reached on specific trade arrangements for Northern Ireland. Moreover, the EU will, after all, have an office in Northern Ireland.
The impact will be to fundamentally undermine Northern Ireland’s status with the UK, effectively partitioning the country. Such a move will enthuse the SNP, offering for them a prelude to the eventual break-up of the Union and the integration of its constituent parts into the EU. Being ‘independent’ within the EU is of course absurd. Lest we forget, nearly 4 out of 10 Scottish voters, as well as over 4 out of 10 Northern Irish voters, opted for Brexit. This compares to just over 5 out of 10 voters in Wales and England.
As Anthony Salamone argued in a paper for the London School of Economics: “As an obligation of membership, Scotland would have to make a good faith commitment to join the euro. However, despite its pro-European sentiment, the euro is remarkably unpopular in Scotland. Opinion polls suggest that only 18 per cent of people believe that an independent Scotland should take up the single currency.” As Professor Alan Sked recently argued for Brexit-watch.org: “Smaller states are still being exploited by the EU. After this summer’s EU summit meeting to decide the next EU budget and establish a Covid Reconstruction Fund, the largest per capita losers in terms of contributions according to the official data were Luxembourg (€5,537), Ireland (€3,201), Denmark (€2,101), Netherlands (€1,797), and Sweden (€ 1,623). Similarly, Ireland had to agree to contribute € 15.7 billion to the Reconstruction Fund”.
Ireland long ago threw its lot in with the EU, but a recent EU court battle over Ireland’s tax system as well as the fact “Irish people will pay in just under twice as much as Germans, and about three times as much as the French” into the new EU budget – may nudge support against the bloc in Ireland. It certainly should, since Ireland’s tax set-up may not be tolerated in Brussels for much longer. Scotland should take note.
Of course, the SNP case doesn’t give any importance to reality. As Kevin Hague argued in the Spectator, “Scotland can’t join the EU while using Sterling” yet “the SNP strategy is to pitch a narrative of ‘keep the pound and join the EU’ in the hope that people won’t realise that this kicks the prospect of EU membership into the far distant future.” To get around Brussels’ Fiscal Compact, “Scotland would have to address its structural, higher-spending driven deficit”, which may “require at least a decade of economic austerity”.
As Professor Sked argued: “Earlier this year polling of 1,008 Scots published in the Scotsman revealed that if the pound were not to be the currency, 42 per cent were less likely to vote for independence, if there were to be a hard border, 43 per cent were less likely to vote for independence, while if an independent Scotland were to be outside both the UK and EU, 42 per cent were less likely to vote for independence. Asked their response to the question ‘should Scotland remain in the United Kingdom,’ 56 per cent said remain.” In the event of leaving the UK, Professor Sked argued that if Scottish nationalists “choose to unofficially use sterling they could not set interest rates or print money” and “would also lose the annual £12 billion from the Scottish block grant and its Barnett formula”, when Scotland’s national deficit is at £15.1 billion (8.6 per per cent of GDP) or “three times the UK figure and three times the 3 per cent figure required for EU membership”.
In other words, when the reality of leaving the UK is put to the Scottish people, the SNP case looks far more precarious. Still, in undermining the sanctity of the UK Union and single market, the Withdrawal Agreement and Northern Ireland Protocol – coupled with recent developments on Northern Ireland – will encourage Scottish nationalists and potentially weaken the UK economy. The economic and emotional case for the true union of Britain – against the artificial union of Europe – is being poorly made. As Sir Simon Jenkins argued in the Guardian, “the EU is not a true political union, like the United States or Russia or even the United Kingdom”. He added: “When the US was created, it agreed to joint liability for federal bonds. When New Orleans flooded in 2005, Washington did not tell Louisiana it was on its own. Nor did Britain say that to Northern Ireland when the province collapsed into bloodshed in the 1970s.”
Britain is not the EU. We are one country and look out for one another. Our solidarity is why Britain works and the EU doesn’t. It is high time the British Government not only make this case but stop adopting policies which undermine it.
Photo by fizkes from Adobe Stock