Amid calls for a new Scottish independence referendum, a leading think tank has warned that a no-deal Brexit risks taking the Union to ‘breaking point’.
A new report has noted a drop in engagement with devolved governments since Boris Johnson became prime minister, and has said: “A no-deal Brexit would be a high stakes gamble with the future of the Union.”
A no-deal scenario would be particularly controversial in Scotland, Wales and Northern Ireland, warned the report.
The report, from the Institute for Government (IFG), came as SNP leader Nicola Sturgeon addressed her party conference saying she is “sick of Westminster” and demanded a new independence referendum by next year.
In its report, the IFG said short-term no-deal Brexit planning has diverted attention away from longer-term questions about the relationship between Westminster and devolved governments.
“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.
While the Scottish government intends to hold a second independence referendum, the report adds 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 sidelined 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 October 31 ‘come what may’.
“This runs counter to the prime minister’s commitment to strengthen the Union.”
Despite this, meaningful engagement between the UK and devolved governments will be especially important for negotiations on future international agreements, including the UK-EU relationship and other trade deals.
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.”