Brexit is finally over, while many celebrated the event others staged protests. Given that separatist movements are gaining strength inside Europe and around the world, it's maybe time we talked about the future of the U.K., as well as the European Union. Where do we go from here?
The recent victory of the Irish left-wing Sinn Féin Party is rooted in its "campaign on a referendum on the unification of the republic and the North within five years." This is a clear sign of the coming change.
At this historic moment, a set of significant questions has emerged: is Brexit the first casualty of the EU? Will Brexit lead the EU to break up? What is the future of the U.K.? Is this union in danger? Is it time for the breakup of Britain? How can these risks be resolved or minimized?
Back in the 2016 EU referendum, both Northern Ireland and Scotland voted to remain, while Wales voted to leave the EU.
Before Brexit happened, the British liberal newspaper, The Guardian, discussed government priorities, posing a momentous question: "We're at breaking point: Will U.K. scientists' big ideas survive Brexit?" Of course, Brexit has brought numerous challenges, alongside new opportunities.
Those who feel worried must recall that Britain has survived a few difficult periods in history successfully, including the World Wars. Although some critics, John Elledge for instance, believed that "Britain has built a national myth on winning World War II" and warned that Brexit may bring back foreign policy failures such as that of Suez.
Britain's foreign policy disappoints present-day union partners Scotland and Ireland along with its colonial past. One thinks of the Irish potato famine, described by Tim Pat Coogan as a "genocide" and the now-forgotten, Bengal famine.
Post-Brexit Britain is plunged into debates about how it will keep trade and economic relationships with its European neighbors, as well as how it will keep the rather challenging relationship with the other four members of the Union.
The Scotland case
The first drawback of Brexit is Scotland's possible departure from the union binding; England, Ireland and Scotland. Scotland's pro-independence newspaper, The National once wrote: "Dear Europe, we didn't vote for this. Remember to... leave a light on for Scotland."
True, in the EU referendum of 2016, both Northern Ireland and Scotland voted 44.2% and 38% respectively in favor of remaining. Thus, it was England who wished to leave Europe.
Jess Sargeant explores nine significant questions concerning Scotland's determination to hold a second independence referendum. Sargeant referred to the "Scotland Act 1998" prohibiting the Scottish Parliament from authorizing any legislation in connection to "matters (reserved) to Westminster, including the Union of the Kingdoms of Scotland and England." But then, no one has ever challenged the law requiring Westminster's approval, so Sargeant believes "there remains some uncertainty about whether Holyrood could hold an advisory referendum without consent."
Since Britain has left Europe, the Scottish government seems keen on holding a second referendum, despite growing opposition from Westminster and also a few legal challenges ahead, that could be a possible be a hurdle to the Scottish wish for independence.
Last year, the SNP won a landslide victory in the General Elections, taking 48 out of 59 seats in the House of Commons. What does such a victory mean for the Scottish National Party? Was that a mandate for Scottish Independence?
Jamie Maxwell's article, published in "Foreign Policy," sums up the Scottish voters' vein that gave the SNP enough mandate and power to "fight for a second referendum despite the procedural obstacles it faces."
This moved Nicola Sturgeon to act just within a week of the General Election (Dec.19, 2019), sending a letter to Boris Johnson about Scotland's determination to hold a second referendum on Scottish Independence.
Though the Surgeon's request was turned down at Westminster "(Boris Johnson refuses to grant Scotland powers to hold independence vote)," it seems that the battle is still on. The BBC has asked a significant question: "Could a new referendum still be held?"
The matter has returned to the fore once again as a result of the SNP gaining an overwhelming majority in the 2019 General Election. Even though what will happen next is fairly unpredictable, as both sides are not ready to show any signs of compromise.
What about Ireland?
Several leading broadcasters, newspapers, independent researchers and bloggers began to ask significant questions, including The BBC Newsnight's, "Will Brexit lead to a united Ireland?;" BBC News, "Could Brexit lead the way to a united Ireland?;" The New York Times, "Will Brexit bring troubles back to Northern Ireland?;" The Washington Post, "After Brexit, will Northern Ireland return to violence?" and The Foreign Policy's "Brexit could spark a return to violence in Northern Ireland."
Is it not worrying that almost all leading media organizations are discussing the possibility of the return of the Irish problem? Perhaps these debates suggest that in post-Brexit Ireland, the issue is a serious political matter needing urgent attention. Many investigative reports including the TLDR News revealed that some advocate the reunion of the "Two Ireland's," that is, Dublin and Belfast joining to form a republic of Ireland. But is that really possible?
James Angelos wrote that "As the U.K. confronts the prospects of dissolution, Old fractions are bracing for the possibility of new violence." Two thought-provoking Brexit debates: "Never Again" hosted by The Convention and "Brexit: Ireland and the English Question" organized by the World Affairs offer an insight into the issue in the post-Brexit era.
In an interview with Vice News, Gerry Adams, president of the Sinn Féin Party, claimed that "the British government has no democratic mandate to represent the views of the North." According to Vice News: "Of particular concern to politicians and locals is the status of the border between Northern Ireland and the Republic of Ireland. Today, the border is open and barely noticeable – but when Britain leaves the EU, that border will become the EU's new frontier." Since Britain has left the EU, what will be the status of these borders? Only time will tell."
Many known political commentators and writers have raised concerns over the fragile relationship between Northern Ireland and Britain, predicting that Brexit could possibly "open the old wounds." Think of "The Great Irish Famine" and "The Troubles."
Two reliable books on the subject are "The Graves are Walking: The Great Famine and the Saga of Irish People" and "The Famine Plot: England's Role in Ireland's Greatest Tragedy." Both explain Britain's role in Ireland's Great Famine.
According to a 1997 article in The Economist, the then British Prime Minister Tony Blair had apologized for the role of Britain in the Irish Famine that took 1 million lives and left 2 million Irish as immigrants.
Today, a younger generation of Brits are overwhelmingly ignorant of this history, either wilfully or systemically, because the British government avoids including its colonial history in the syllabus of educational institutions.
While millions of Irish people were killed and faced starvation at the hands of Britain, the Ottoman Sultan's generous help strengthened the Irish people's will to resist the imposed famine. The Irish still cherish the Turkic Sultan's humanitarian aid and that is why there is "the star and crescent on the emblem of Irish football club Drogheda."
That was the Irish past and it is over now. The break-up of the USSR, the dissolution of Czechoslovakia, the division of Germany, the partition of India, the present separatist movements in Europe and beyond, the will of Californians for more sovereignty and autonomy, are a few of the many illustrations of past and present history.
What is essentially important is to remember that history repeats itself. More significantly, what goes around comes around. The U.K. may become a republic one day, or it may remain a monarchy, or it may possibly become England and not the U.K., but whatever happens, it will be peaceful.
* British-Pakistani political analysts and human rights activist based in the U.K.