4 ways triggering Brexit has launched the UK into constitutional chaos


UK constitutional crisis deepens as Theresa May begins formal Brexit process

THE UK has been plunged deeper into constitutional crisis as Prime Minister Theresa May has begun the formal process of breaking from the EU in the same hour as the Scottish Parliament voted to seek an independence referendum.

President of the European Council Donald Tusk has received a letter from May this afternoon (29 March), giving notice under the terms of Article 50 – the legal mechanism for a member state to quit the EU.

As the UK and EU prepare for highly complex negotiations in the coming years, May faces numerous obstacles and dangers in her attempts to hold the UK together through Brexit.

1. #ScotRef

The Scottish Parliament has voted to request an independence referendum, after offers for a compromise deal maintaining Scottish relations with the EU was ignored.

The UK Government are maintaining they will not discuss an independence referendum until after Brexit is complete – but this means shunning the Scottish Parliament.

It is not just a profound complication to the Brexit process, but a humiliation for May to have to go before the EU’s negotiating team with all parties knowing her claims to represent the whole UK are tenuous and conditional on the outcome of a Scottish referendum.

2. Northern Ireland

Like Scotland, Northern Ireland (NI) voted by a majority to remain in the EU. Hard brexit, while the Republic of Ireland remains a full member of the EU, will mean unprecedented disruption for the peace process there.

Brexit could mean a hard border imposed between NI and RoI, and the end of regulation co-operation between departments of government in Dublin and Belfast.

Differences over Brexit between the Democratic Unionist Party and the republican movement Sinn Fein have added to a break-down in relations and the end of power sharing in NI. The UK may be forced into direct rule over six counties – with unforeseeable complications and controversies.

3. The end of devolution

In January the UK Supreme Court found that the devolved assemblies did not have a say over the form of Brexit and its impacts on their own powers and remits, in relation to the triggering of Article 50.

Previous to this decision, the Scottish Parliament had successfully countered Westminster legislation on the basis that it infringes on devolved areas of governance.

This decision, and the centralisation of power to Westminster represented by Brexit, means that the journey of devolution begun by New Labour in the 1990s is now challenged. The UK Government has not made any offer of further devolution or suggested what a new settlement might look like.

4. A ‘no deal’ scenario

The UK’s negotiations with the EU will revolve around attempts to achieve a comprehensive trade deal, minimising economic fallout from exiting the single market.

If a deal cannot be agreed, then the UK will face trading with EU member state economies on World Trade Organisation (WTO) rules, which could see tariffs as high as 40 per cent on some UK goods, potentially crippling trade.

Though the impacts of this would be predominantly economic, it would involve many constitutional complications for the UK’s extremely unevenly developed economies, with different regions experiencing worse impacts depending on their industries. This would also push the UK into closer trading agreements with other partners, especially an increasingly isolationist US.

Picture courtesy of Number 10

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