Brexit break-up?

Phil Parry assesses the political challenges for each part of the UK following the referendum.

These are among the most extraordinary post-war political times and devolved nations like Wales are playing a full part.

Scotland voted to remain in the European Union (EU), as did Northern Ireland. The First Minister of Scotland, Nicola Sturgeon, appears to be more comfortable with the new Prime Minister, Theresa May, than her predecessor. She tweeted a picture of the two together saying it should be an example to girls of what could be achieved.

But another referendum on independence for Scotland is a distinct possibility.

The deputy first minister of Northern Ireland, Martin McGuinness, has said the issue of a united Ireland is now back on the table because, ofcourse, the Republic of Ireland is a member of the EU. He called for a ‘border poll’ on a united Ireland. This is the only part of the UK which shares a land border with a country in the EU.

Wales voted to leave but by a far smaller margin than in England. Carwyn Jones, the first minister of Wales, campaigned strongly for a ‘Remain’ vote in last month’s EU referendum. He said the choice was “a much more fundamental moment” than the 1997 vote to create the Welsh assembly. After the vote to leave the EU on June 23 he warned it was “now more difficult to attract investment into Wales and keep jobs in Wales”.

At a UK level, Mrs May has assembled a fascinating cabinet. The Chancellor Philip Hammond, arguably her second-in-command, was a stronger campaigner for the Remain cause than his boss, who was a bit half-hearted. Among his first comments as Chancellor was to stress the importance of securing as much access as possible to the single market in negotiations with the EU. But that is unlikely to happen without, as Norway has been forced to, accepting the free movement of labour.

The ‘four freedoms’ of goods, services, capital and labour, is a fundamental plank of the EU. Mr Hammond has also said it could take six years for the UK to extricate itself from the EU. Neither of those issues will please the ‘Leave’ camp.

One source has already told the media:  “We will not stand for it and nor will the millions out there who voted to leave”.

One school of thought is that the key Leavers in the UK government are not up to the huge job ahead of them, and Theresa May knows this. Boris Johnson, as foreign secretary, could in fact play only a marginal role. Andrea Leadsom as environment secretary, will face an enormous task unpicking the hundreds of EU environmental and agricultural grants.

The disgraced Liam Fox has been recalled to the cabinet as Secretary of State for International Trade. He left his old job as Defence Secretary five years ago because he had invited a lobbyist friend on international trips and to private Ministry of Defence meetings. He too faces an uphill task now.

David Davis, a noted Eurosceptic libertarian, has the unenviable task of co-ordinating all these difficult customers as Secretary of State for Exiting the European Union. He has already suggested that new EU migrants who head for Britain could be sent back to avoid a spike in figures ahead of our withdrawal. The new Prime Minister is at present enjoying a honeymoon as media commentators praise her ‘steely resolve’.

But this is unlikely to last long – in fact it could be shorter than any other previous PM.  She has a reputation for being calm under pressure. But there will be a lot of pressure in the years ahead, and Wales could add to it.

Phil Parry is Editor of the Investigative website ‘The Eye’.

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