Blog Post - Views on the Economy and the World

A Way to Save the United Kingdom

| June 29, 2016
I see a possible way out for the trap that Brits now find themselves in, a way to keep Great Britain great.

  1.  The Scots, under Nicola Sturgeon (First Minister of Scotland), would decide immediately that they will hold a new referendum on independence.  This referendum would state explicitly that if the United Kingdom decides to stay in the EU then Scotland will stay in the UK, but if Britain leaves the EU then Scotland will leave the UK.  The decision to hold a referendum on conditional Scottish independence would be approved by the Westminster parliament.

  2. That referendum would create a constitutional crisis in Great Britain. This constitutional crisis would genuinely justify a second UK referendum on whether to leave the EU (Brexit), in a way that mere second thoughts after the June 23 outcome do not otherwise justify.  Historically, the “Great” was added when Scotland joined the union.  It became the “United Kingdom” when Ireland joined.   Symbolically: those patriotic Englishmen who campaigned on the Leave side were (mostly) waving the Union Jack.  If Scotland were to leave, it would be the end of the Union Jack — where the cross of St. Andrew stands for Scotland, the cross of St. Patrick stands for Northern Ireland, and only the cross of St. George stands for England.

  3. In this second Brexit referendum, the Remain campaign will pick up votes of those committed to preserving the UK intact — in addition to any who have now learned that the leaders of the Leave campaign cannot fulfill promises made regarding immigration, trade, and budget savings.   Perhaps the outcome will come out pro-EU this time, which is what happened in the past when other European countries reversed initial anti-integration referenda, in both Ireland and Denmark.  (If the EU were willing to make further concessions to the UK that would also help, of course; but it cannot be expected to do so.)

  4. This plan would be pursued by a coalition of four: Sturgeon, some new anti-Brexit Tory leader, some anti-Brexit Labor politician, and Tim Farron (of the Liberal Democrats).  During the period of uncertainty over Scotland, the prime-ministership, the leadership of these three British parties and indeed the very existence of the parties would remain also uncertain.  This political crisis further justifies the fundamental rethink.  At some point there would be a new general election, fought along Remain/Leave lines.  As part of the Remain campaign, its leaders should spell out policies to improve living standards for those who feel they have lost out to globalization and European integration.

  5. Meanwhile, many continental EU leaders will demand that the UK invoke article 50, to start the process of actually leaving.  But the UK parliament would nevertheless refrain from doing it, until the referendum process has played itself out.

For more information on this publication: Please contact the Belfer Communications Office
For Academic Citation: Frankel, Jeffrey.A Way to Save the United Kingdom.” Views on the Economy and the World, June 29, 2016, https://www.belfercenter.org/publication/way-save-united-kingdom.