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Devolution update: continuing questions over Scotland and Ireland

Andrew Sheftel
March 24, 2017

Posted in Devolution

Following the result of the EU referendum last June, questions were immediately raised regarding Scottish devolution and the future of the UK’s relationship with Ireland.

Questions over the future of Scotland have remained in the news in view of the fact that the majority of those who voted in Scotland voted to remain. Recently, the Scottish National Party has renewed calls for a second referendum on Scottish independence and the Scottish Parliament will debate the question of a second referendum next week. Theresa May, however, has indicated that any such referendum would not take place before the UK had left the EU.

With regard to Scotland’s membership of the EU, it remains to be seen whether Scotland could become an independent country and remain a member of the EU, or whether it would have to establish independence and then apply for EU membership (as the Commission have previously indicated). If no referendum does take place before the UK’s exit from the EU, it may be that this question will become academic. Insofar as Scotland is required to apply for membership, it is possible that Scotland would be required to accept the Euro and the Schengen Agreement. In any event, if the rest of the UK leave the customs union, as the UK Government has indicated it will, a hard border between England and Scotland will need to be put into place.

Turning to Ireland, in the immediate aftermath of the EU referendum result, there were calls from Republican parties for a separate referendum on Northern Ireland's future as part of the UK. It is unlikely that such calls will be heeded but the UK is Ireland’s biggest trading partner and concerns have been raised that such trade could be adversely affected, particularly if Brexit were to result in any restrictions on free movement between Northern Ireland and the Republic of Ireland.

In the UK Government’s recent White Paper on “The United Kingdom’s exit from an new partnership with the European Union”, one of the twelve guiding principles identified by the Government  for the forthcoming negotiations is: “Protecting our strong and historic ties with Ireland and maintaining the Common Travel Area”: The White Paper stresses the UK’s aim to have as seamless and frictionless a border as possible between Northern Ireland and Ireland to protect reciprocal treatment of each other’s nationals once the UK has left the EU – something which the Irish Government is also in favour of. This week, the EU’s chief negotiator, Michael Barnier, after citing the importance of the Good Friday Agreement, stated that he is “particularly attentive” to the consequences of the UK's decision to leave the Customs Union” in the context of the UK’s relationship with Ireland. How this issue will be addressed in practice will become apparent once negotiations commence following the UK giving notice under Article 50.

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