No-deal Brexit would be high stakes gamble with future of Union, says think tank

A no-deal Brexit would be highly controversial in Scotland, Wales and Northern Ireland and risks taking the Union to “breaking point”, a leading think tank has warned.

The Institute for Government (IFG) said that since Boris Johnson became Prime Minister, there has been a decline in engagement with the devolved governments.

In a report, called No-deal Brexit and the Union, the think tank said: “A no-deal Brexit would be a high stakes gamble with the future of the Union.”

The authors said short-term no-deal planning has diverted attention away from longer-term questions about the relationship between Westminster and devolved governments.

The IFG said meaningful and systematic engagement between the UK and devolved governments will be necessary for negotiations on future international agreements, including the UK-EU relationship and other trade deals.

“No deal will mean no transition period, so these unresolved issues will need to be addressed urgently, in what will be an even more charged political atmosphere,” the report said.

The think tank said a no-deal Brexit will “increase the risks faced by the Union itself”, adding: “In Northern Ireland, no deal and direct rule would make a swift return to power sharing unlikely. Pressure for a border poll on the island of Ireland is likely to increase.”

The report warns that a no-deal scenario will have “particularly severe consequences” for Northern Ireland.

It says the Scottish government intends to hold a second independence referendum, adding that a “modest” independence movement has developed in Wales.

The IFG said: “Brexit has put a strain on relations between the nations of the UK. A no-deal departure from the EU could take it to breaking point.

“The Scottish and Welsh governments have felt increasingly side-lined since 2016 and, aside from the DUP, voices from Northern Ireland have been unrepresented in the Brexit process.

“While the devolved administrations have been vocal in their opposition to leaving the EU without a deal, the UK government has committed to leaving the EU on the 31 October ‘come what may’.

“This runs counter to the prime minister’s commitment to strengthen the Union.”

IFG senior fellow Akash Paun said: “If the Union is to survive and prosper, people in all parts of the country need to be persuaded of the value of remaining within the UK. The UK government needs a new strategy to make the positive case for the Union and improve its approach to working with the devolved governments.”

IFG researcher Jess Sargeant said: “No deal will make intergovernmental relationships much more challenging, but meaningful engagement between the UK and devolved governments will be necessary for negotiations on future international agreements.

“If the UK Government continues with the same approach it has taken to EU negotiations, the cracks in the Union are likely to widen.”

A Government spokesman said the devolved administrations had been regularly updated on negotiations and readiness for Brexit.

“Our union is the most successful political and economic union in history and we have been clear that we will strengthen this once we leave the EU, setting us on a course for a brighter, better future,” he added.

“We have made a fair and reasonable offer to the EU to allow us to leave with a deal and now it’s time for the EU to show a willingness to compromise too. We will be ready for Brexit on October 31, with or without a deal, and without any further delay.”

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