As “a ship in a storm”; the unexpected resignation of Nicola Sturgeon, First Minister of Scotland, is just one of the latest inconveniences that affect the integrity of the United Kingdom, which lives in a phase of deep uncertainty and decline. From Brexit to the difficult relationship with the European Union, as well as the most recent local and economic issues, it is time to take decisions to preserve the entirety of the kingdom and its geopolitical influence.
Brexit and the Northern Ireland dilemma
The result of the Brexit referendum and the leaving of the Eu and its economic market (31 January 2020) after a transition period, opened the gate of the Kingdom’s instability. Yet the score of the referendum with 51.9% of Leave against 48.1% of Remain and the internal contradictions (Scotland and Northern Ireland Remain was 62% and 55.8%) showed the controversial situation developed.
Furthermore, over the years, the negative consequences of Brexit have begun to point out inexorably. Examples of this are the labor shortage in fundamental sectors such as adult care and public services collapsing, or the declining importation of foreign workers and students and its effect on everyday life beginning with the supply of food items. The trade issues afflicted the relationship with the Eu and the closest neighbor France, as shown by the “fishing battle” between Macron’s government and the former conservative First Minister Boris Johnson.
The tricky Northern Ireland protocol and the introduction of cameras or border posts as part of checks on goods, the political instability repercussions, and the fear of coming back to the Troubles years also represent a delicate situation for the integrity of the entire kingdom.
The political fiasco and the war in Ukraine
To contribute to this serious context there has been the political climate with three Prime Ministers in London in less than one year, an unknown crisis. From Boris Johnson’s resignation due to the personal and party scandals during the pandemic worst period to the political suicide of Liz Truss and its shorter executive, the national control has experienced a fall, now in the hand of Rishi Sunak guide. In particular, the reckless plan launched by the Truss’s government about the tax-cutting reform has provoked economic turmoil, as well as a national shake, that will persist for a long time.
The internal poisonous struggle within the conservative party and the inability of the opposition to assert itself in the elections are preventing the smooth running of political functions, precisely at a time of extreme difficulty for the entire country, especially after the death of Queen Elizabeth II, the UK’s longest-serving monarch with 70 years of reign, and the main guarantor of the Kingdom’s stability.
The Russian invasion of the Ukraine territory is also playing a role in the structure of the UK:
On one hand, the geopolitical position and contribution of Westminster have been ineluctable and determined as the recent meeting between Sunak and Ukrainian leader Zelensky has shown. On the other hand, instead, the negative impact of the war, especially in the economic field and the surge of gas prices, is not helping to reduce the highest data of percentage inflation in all of Europe and its rising cost of living.
To add pressure to the challenging British context are the estimates declared by the International Monetary Fund. According to the IMF predictions, the UK economy will shrink and perform worse than other advanced economies, including Russia, as a consequence of the wicked policies of the last months. Moreover, the latest national strikes with the engagement of more than half a million British workers sum up an unstable state which has to administrate by the political establishment.
Lights of hope
The complex situation inside the United Kingdom needs a direct approach in order to overtake the crisis and shrink the internal secession. On this side, some positive news could be:
Although the former First Minister of Scotland has launched a campaign “to be not a prisoner of Westminster and to protect Scottish democracy”, the Supreme Court has ruled that the Scottish Parliament does not have the authority to legislate for a referendum on Scottish independence from the rest of the United Kingdom. Therefore, it will be a bit unrealistic to think of a secession process by Scotland in the next years.
Additionally, the turmoil about Northern Ireland and the trade between the UK and the Eu maybe it has reached a positive outcome. In the last days of February, the First Minister Sunak and the President of the European Commission von Der Leyen reached a deal in principle, the Windsor Framework. The new plan should facilitate trade through a subdivision into two lines: the green spot for the internal market; the goods destined for Northern Ireland should not have to be checked and they would be submitted to minimal paperwork. On the other hand, instead, a red lane for goods destined for Ireland and the Eu which should have to check more.
Furthermore, the plan idea would include a specific mechanism to protect Northern Ireland citizens and guarantee the application of the Good Friday Agreement, the so-called Stormont brake. Thanks to this condition, the Belfast Assembly could block any new Eu laws coming into force in the region, raising an objection and having a more proactive role. However, in order to prevent the abuse of this mechanism, the “brake” should be used only in exceptional circumstances, such as a significant change in everyday life, and the Eu could react with some “remedial measures”.
The social, political, and economic issues seem to describe a situation out of control and truly frightful. Nevertheless, some indicators can help to appease:
First, the Windsor Framework should safeguard people and communities from Northern Ireland and guarantee fair trade with the Eu, as well as improve the singular position of this territory which can access “not just to the UK home market, but also the Eu single market”. Moreover, the deal would improve the alliance and historical special relationship with the United States, an indirect observer of the question because of the interest at the stake of the large Irish community in the U.S.
Secondly, one of the positive effects of the reached agreement with the Eu institutions could be the regain for UK researchers to the European Union’s flagship Horizon Europe funding programme or the comeback to the Erasmus+ initiative and its opportunities for young people.
Then, the gloomy economic predictions for this year may be partially recovered due to the recent executive decisions, such as the latest financial update presented by Chancellor Jeremy Hunt, as well as the decrease in gas prices and hopefully a geopolitical solution to the war in Ukraine.
Finally, the prudent and wise authority of the First Minister Rishi Sunak and his government team should assure solidity and safety, which can help to contrast national issues, improve geopolitical power and, most importantly, preserve the cohesion of the United Kingdom.