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The United Kingdom officially launched its Brexit policy last Wednesday under Article 50 of the Treaty of Lisbon which permits member states of the European Union to withdraw. That has now opened a two-year window for a negotiation that will likely end with a formal divorce by March 29, 2019.
Mixed into the commencement of this process is a parallel development in Scotland where the Scottish Parliament voted 69-59 in favour of seeking a second referendum on Scottish independence by 2019 at the latest. It is clear that the Scottish First Minister, Nicola Sturgeon, is seeking to outflank these Brexit negotiations by making a political move of her own that will seek Scottish secession as a means of preserving Scotland’s membership of the EU while the remainder of the United Kingdom seeks Brexit.
This is a complex political situation that has the potential to create a showdown between Westminster and Holyrood with the Scottish Nationalist Party (SNP) hoping for fuel for this fire to come from the negotiations between Brussels and London.
In her March 29 letter to the President of the European Council, Prime Minister Theresa May said:
“On 23 June last year, the people of the United Kingdom voted to leave the European Union. As I have said before, that decision was no rejection of the values we share as fellow Europeans. Nor was it an attempt to do harm to the European Union or any of the remaining member states. On the contrary, the United Kingdom wants the European Union to succeed and prosper. Instead, the referendum was a vote to restore, as we see it, our national self-determination. We are leaving the European Union, but we are not leaving Europe—and we want to remain committed partners and allies to our friends across the continent.”
These sentences capture the gymnastics required to exit Europe and still have the appearance that Britain has not left Europe by virtue of the trade and other deals that will have to be negotiated.
What does stand out in the letter is the interpretation of the result of last year’s Brexit referendum as “a vote to restore….our national self-determination”.
National self-determination for all of the United Kingdom has, in many respects, sparked a rise in Scottish self-determination as a by-product of this process seeing that, on a disaggregated basis, Scotland voted in favour of remaining in the EU by a margin of 62 per cent to 38 per cent with an electoral turnout of 67 per cent.
What Nicola Sturgeon has injected into her campaign for a second bite at the independence referendum cherry is the right of Scotland to exert some measure of self-determination about whether or not it should join the rest of the United Kingdom in going ahead with these Brexit negotiations.
With Brexit being negotiated in Brussels, this sidebar contest between Westminster and Holyrood will be a very interesting dimension in the process. Theresa May, in her statement to Parliament right after confirmation came that her letter had been delivered in Brussels made it clear that after Brexit European Union law would no longer apply in the United Kingdom.
With Scottish independence being articulated once more, the terms of that battle will be very different. In the last independence referendum in 2014 there was no issue of Brexit on the table for discussion. Now the independence movement in Scotland will add the desire to remain in the EU as part of its menu to justify its case for secession from the UK at a time when the UK is negotiating its own secession from the EU.
The Secretary of State for Scotland in the British Cabinet, David Mundell, tweeted last Tuesday as follows:
“#indyref2 before Brexit process is complete is unfair, so can’t be agreed. Nor will there be any negotiations in response to such a request.”
Nicola Sturgeon and the SNP got the support of the Scottish Green Party to earn a majority vote in the Scottish Parliament last week which now puts her on a collision course with London on this issue.
Scottish self-determination is being mixed with the disaggregated vote from last June’s Brexit referendum to create a cocktail that, for the SNP and the Green Party, will, hopefully for them, lead to simultaneously staying in the EU, while breaking away from the United Kingdom at the same time.
For other countries around the world who will have to consider entering into new treaty arrangements with the United Kingdom post-Brexit, what are the challenges? Many of them will seek to conclude new trade and other agreements however, will the United Kingdom of Great Britain and Northern Ireland still have within its ranks the realm of Scotland ?
Our local policymakers need to start preparing themselves for this and it should be raised at the next Commonwealth Heads of Government meeting to be held in London during the week of April 16, 2018.
We have a year to observe what will happen between Westminster and Holyrood which will be of great significance to Caricom as well as T&T. Let us have two plans of action.
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