Over the last few days Britain has formally started its departure, or ‘Brexit’, from the political and economic bloc that is the EU, triggering a cascade of repercussions that threaten its very survival.
Scotland has called for a new independence referendum, Spain is flexing its muscles over Gibraltar and the Irish are now confronted with new borders with Northern Ireland, thereby threatening the Irish peace process.
The UK may survive Brexit, but it might not. There is a risk that Brexit may see the UK lose Gibraltar, Northern Ireland and even Scotland.
If this were to happen then the UK will cease to exist.
From Gibraltar …
Article 50 of the Lisbon treaty, which sets the process for the UK leaving the EU, says that any deal must have the unanimous agreement of the remaining EU states.
Those who live on “the rock” want to stay part of the UK and they also voted to stay part of the EU. They can’t have both.
The economic wellbeing for those on Gibraltar depends on open borders, with people crossing unhindered to and fro between Spain and Gibraltar for employment, shopping and socialising.
The UK leaving the EU may well result in a formal border and customs points between Gibraltar and Spain. What of those living in Spain and working in Gibraltar or vice versa? Where will they pay tax? What about their social security?
For the Spanish, the solution is simple. Give Gibraltar back to Spain. And if the Spanish feel strongly about this then they may consider vetoing any Brexit agreement unless this happens.
… to Scotland …
Scotland’s First Minister Nicola Sturgeon has requested a second referendum for an independent Scotland. The British Prime Minister has not said ‘no’, rather she has said it should be after Brexit not before. Ms Sturgeon wants it before. Either way, it will happen some time in the next two to three years.
While I am not able to predict with certainty what the outcome is, there certainly is a strong possibility that Scotland will vote to leave the UK and may try and rejoin, or even stay in, the EU.
Watch Nicola Sturgeon prosecute the case for independence below
… to Ireland
A critical component of the Good Friday Agreement that brought peace to Northern Ireland was the notion of open borders between British Northern Ireland and the Republic of Ireland.
The Republic of Ireland is staying in the EU, whereas Northern Ireland will leave the EU with the UK.
So what happens to the border?
Will the EU or the UK insist on a hard border with the Republic of Ireland and thereby risk the Good Friday Agreement?
Or, as some have suggested, will there be an open border on the island of Ireland and have a EU/UK fixed border between the island of Ireland and the rest of the UK, which might hasten a reunification of Northern Ireland and the Republic of Ireland?
While the look of the UK post-Brexit is neither clear nor certain, it is certainly a possibility that the UK will lose Gibraltar, lose Scotland and may even lose Northern Ireland.
If this were to happen would the nationalistic pro-Brexit supporters admit that the only thing they have done to their nation is tear it apart?
I doubt it.
Andrew MacLeod is a visiting Professor at Kings College London and a Non Executive Director of Cornerstone Capital in the US. He was a Remain campaigner and has now combined with Brexit campaigners to form Brexit Advisory Services at UK’s Griffin Law. He can be followed @AndrewMMacLeod.