Internal Divisions Will Appear in the UK after Brexit
An anti-Brexit protester in London. (Getty Images)
By Li Xue and He Liu

Internal Divisions Will Appear in the UK after Brexit

Feb. 01, 2019  |     |  0 comments

After Brexit, the UK will not isolate itself and become closed off to the outside world. However, the UK will start to reorient its national position and divisions will happen between elites and grassroots as well as between England and other regions. It is hard to reverse this trend through a minimal Brexit favored by the Cabinet.


Division Between Elites and Grassroots


The forces of anti-globalization have converged to become a “whirlpool” in the current of globalization. Across the world, elites and industries always seek fame and fortune, those in the UK (mainly in England) are no exception. As contributors to the economy at home, they demand the government enhance their international competitiveness by promoting their commercial interests at home and abroad on the one hand, and making laws and regulations accordingly on the other. Grassroots do not have enough information for decision making, even though they have received some education and know some kind of European affairs. That happened in the case of the Brexit referendum. However, they have now realized the consequences of Brexit and some of them have changed their opinion.


As elites have the capability to acquire and analyze enough information, the gap between them and grassroots are widening, both in developed countries and emerging economies. After Brexit, the UK may narrow this gap albeit with the cost of a brain drain and the weakening of its industrial superiority. Consequently, there will be a decline in Britain’s international competitiveness.


Division Between England and Scotland


In particular, England and Scotland will become alienated from each other more than before. Scotland didn’t have a good experience when it merged with England in the founding of the United Kingdom of Great Britain in 1707.


From the aspect of race, most Scots were from Ireland and Northern Europe. From the perspective of culture, Scotland maintained a closer relationship with continental Europe, particularly France, than with England for a long period of time. The first choice for Scottish people to receive higher education outside is the continent rather than England. Scotland have always attached more importance to education and Scotland had more universities than England for quite a long time. These gave birth to the Scottish Enlightenment (1740-1790) and top intellectuals like David Hume and Adam Smith.


In terms of religion, the Scottish Presbyterian Church originated from Calvinists while the Anglican Church has little difference with Catholicism for ages. Economically, Scotland with its emphasis on agriculture is less developed than England leaning towards industry and commerce. In terms of political structure, Scotland has its own parliament and therefore it enjoys more liberty than other regions on the domestic front. From the point of law, Scotland is closer to the legal systems of the European continent than England. Scots have gotten used to the multilevel of legislation, administration and law enforcement system.


The above factors converge to create a barrier for the Scottish people to identify with England and they prefer a closer relationship with the European continent. Furthermore, the inability to identify with England is also seen as a tool to resist England hegemony inside the UK. After Brexit, Scotland will get more distanced from England while edging closer to the European Union (EU). However, it is difficult, if not impossible, for Scotland to gain independence in the near future.


Division Between England and Northern Ireland


The Republic of Ireland has attracted a large amount of foreign investment since the 1980s through development of industries such as software and bio-technologies. It has successfully transformed itself into “The Tiger of Europe” from “The Countryside of Europe”. Currently, Ireland’s GDP per capita has exceeded that of Britain. The economic and trade ties between Northern Ireland and Republic of Ireland have strengthened over the years, and 31 percent of Northern Ireland’s trade is related with Ireland.

The three regions of Scotland, Northern Ireland and Wales will reflect on the following questions: Who am I? What does the United Kingdom mean to me?

Hence, there is a limited room for the improvement of the relationship between Northern Ireland and the UK. Northern Ireland and the Republic of Ireland are located on the same island and they have a special arrangement for trade and personnel exchanges. On January 15, 2019, the British parliament refused to pass the Brexit Deal proposed by Prime Minister Theresa May. But if she rejects to delay the Brexit, Britain will step into Brexit without a deal from March 29, and Northern Ireland will be affected in several aspects. Taking its own interest into account, Northern Ireland may have to make a unilateral compromise with the Republic of Ireland backed by the EU. Thus, Northern Ireland may loosen its ties with England.

Division Between England and Wales

The Welsh King of Gwynedd bowed to England in 927 AD, but the actual rule of Wales by England did not start until 1284 when King Edward I conquered the whole of Wales and issued Laws in Wales Acts. King Edward sent his pregnant wife to Wales for delivery so that his new-born son could become qualified as the Prince of Wales. That is why the Crown Prince of England is bestowed the title of Prince of Wales.

Welshmen are descendants of Celts while the majority of English are progenies of Anglo-Saxons. For a long time, Wales was known as the backyard for the King or Queen. Wales has its own cultural traditions and Welshmen have a strong self of identity. They have been running their own parliament after the referendum in 1997. In recent years, the UK has begun to put in more effort in developing Wales, nevertheless there is a low likelihood that Wales will become a “new England”. With Brexit looming and the flourishing of multiculturism in Europe, the centrifugal force of Welsh vis-à-vis England, though weaker than Scotland, is still quite strong.


The above divisions will affect the political and cultural identifications of the people in the UK at different levels. Both the elites and grassroots will maintain their cultural identification with England, but politically, they will be further divided in their consensus of the role of the government, and conflicts concerning these issues may ensue.

The three regions of Scotland, Northern Ireland and Wales will reflect on the following questions: Who am I? What does the United Kingdom mean to me? They may ponder: countries like the US, Canada, Australia and New Zealand have developed well and even better than the UK after their independence; why can’t we? The Republic of Ireland is a good case in point. It showed that small and backward parts of the UK can accomplish significant developments after independence. However, England feels that these three regions are biting the hand that feeds them. Hence, the alienation between England and these three regions will increase.

Nonetheless, the gap between social classes in England may narrow while the degree of alienation on regional bases is limited. Where the equilibrium lies is in compromising on various contentious topics, in which England is greatly experienced. It may take a generation before the UK overcomes the shock waves of Brexit and achieves a new balance in politics, economy and culture.

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