James Forsyth James Forsyth

Brexit can strengthen the Union

Ministers must curb Whitehall’s instinct to hog all the powers it gets back from Brussels

There will be no chance of the United Kingdom making a success of Brexit if Scotland votes to break up the kingdom. And although the immediate danger of that happening appears to have passed — the Scottish National Party lost ground in the general election and Nicola Sturgeon doesn’t speak anywhere near as much about independence nowadays — this could change if Brexit is mishandled.

When Britain leaves the EU then Scotland leaves too — those are the rules, and Spain, which is not too keen on the idea of secession, will insist upon them. So Brexit in itself will make Scottish independence an even bigger risk. It will knock on the head the idea of ‘independence in Europe’ and force Scottish voters to make a choice between staying in the UK single market or applying to join the EU one.

The EU exit talks are acting as a reminder of just how complicated breaking up the United Kingdom would be. If disentangling yourself from a 40-year-old trade pact with some political aspects is this difficult, imagine what breaking up a 300-year economic, political and defence union would be like. But it would be foolish to think the Nationalist threat has gone away.

About two in five Scots still support independence and the SNP, as a party, is in better shape than any of its Westminster counterparts. It holds a majority of the Scottish seats in the Commons, governs at Holyrood and is still set to be largest party after the next devolved elections. The SNP might lose its majority for independence, but Ms Sturgeon is likely to be in Bute House for some time.

This is why it is so important not to mess up the EU withdrawal bill, which is currently paused as the whips try to work out how to avoid losing any votes on it.

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