Fractured Unions: Brexit and the Territorial Constitution
Brexit Institute Working Paper Series, No 13/2021
15 Pages Posted: 2 Nov 2021 Last revised: 10 Nov 2021
Date Written: October 28, 2021
During the Brexit negotiations, the UK’s main preoccupation was not trade and market access but sovereignty, which it saw as threatened by membership of the EU. This was based upon one particular conception of sovereignty, and on the view that the UK is a unitary state, rather than a plurinational union in which the question of sovereignty has never been settled. These profound differences in understandings of sovereignty underlie differing orientations towards Europe. The UK system of devolution in place since the millennium was deeply embedded in assumptions derived from UK membership of the EU, so that Brexit destabilised the settlement. Brexit has unleashed both centrifugal forces, in the shape of secessionist pressures, and centripetal tendencies, in the form of UK Government attempts at recentralisation. While Northern Ireland received a special dispensation in the form of the Northern Ireland Protocol, demands for a differentiated Brexit for Scotland have been rebuffed. Neither the fragmentation of the UK into its constituent nations nor the restoration of the unitary state provides a straightforward solution. These would merely shift borders when the real problem is the existence and nature of borders in a world marked by shared and divided sovereignty, interdependence and asymmetry.
Keywords: Brexit, Devolution, Northern Ireland, Scotland, United Kingdom
Suggested Citation: Suggested Citation