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Brexit and Europe Brexit and Europe

Create a more unified, strengthened United Kingdom

Last updated: 02:22pm 14 October 2019

We will make sure we have […] a more unified, strengthened United Kingdom.

Conservative Party Manifesto 2017, p.36

Our verdict

This manifesto pledge was made in relation to the government’s commitment to “getting the best deal for Britain” during negotiations to leave the EU (starts from the end of page 35 if you’re interested in the full context!).

It’s not clear to us how the would government define a “more unified” or “strengthened” UK, so we have contacted them to get some clarity. We also contacted the independent research project The UK in a Changing Europe (UKCE), who have looked into this very subject:

“The unity and strength of the United Kingdom can be measured in two ways. Firstly, whether the settlement between the four parts of the United Kingdom is stable. Secondly, the degree to which the UK is united politically across its nations and regions. Brexit is clearly putting pressure on both of these factors.”

So how do things stand between UK nations in terms of the stability between them? Well, the UK government is concerned about having enough control of laws after Brexit to keep the UK’s internal single market functioning, but according to UKCE “the devolved administrations describe the centralisation this involves as a ‘power grab’, of areas like agriculture and the environment, given these are currently powers that the devolved administrations have control over managing.”

As a result, although you might not necessarily say this means nations are less stable or less united, it would also be hard to say things have improved. So what about political unity within the United Kingdom? UKCE says:

“There has been no particular shift either for or against UK membership of the EU since the referendum, so the electorate remains deeply divided on this issue. Support for an independence referendum in Scotland is at its lowest point since the independence referendum in 2014. However, the strength of the union is being questioned on the Northern Irish border: the possibility of Northern Ireland diverging from the rest of the UK is seen by unionists in Ulster as a fundamental threat to the UK, but the government’s competing aims from Brexit suggests it remains a live possibility.”

This analysis suggests that so far there is no evidence the UK is “more unified” since the government came to power. Brexit clearly poses a challenge, and we’ll update this page once the conditions of our exit from the EU are known. For now, we’re marking this as ‘not started’. Follow this policy to get updates as soon as they happen.

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