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Sunday, September 25, 2022

Brexit is driving support for breaking up the UK and electoral reform

When the new King Charles III acceded to the throne, his first royal tour was to all four nations of the United Kingdom.

Under the reign of his mother, Queen Elizabeth II, the union held together despite the 2014 Scottish independence referendum and decades of turmoil in Northern Ireland.

But the latest annual British Social Attitudes survey, published today, throws the spotlight on rising nationalism in both Scotland and Northern Ireland, which will make for difficult reading in Downing Street and Buckingham Palace.

In Scotland, the debate over independence has been resurfacing for the last few years, even though the 2014 poll was supposed to settle the question for a generation.

The 2016 Brexit vote – which was not supported by a majority of people north of the border – and the eventual split from the EU has spurred this rise in pro-independence sentiment, as Professor John Curtice, who led the survey for the National Centre for Social Research, confirms today.

But what will be just as concerning for the government and monarch – as well as a majority of people in the UK – is the increase in support in Northern Ireland for breaking away from the union.

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According to the NatCen report, this has also been fuelled by Brexit, in particular the problems caused by the Northern Ireland protocol which introduced checks on goods crossing from Britain to Northern Ireland. The complications from this have meant that the Northern Ireland Assembly has been unable to meet since May 2021.

While the majority of people in Northern Ireland are still in favour of remaining in the UK, for the first time those who want to stay have slipped to just under half, while those in favour of Irish reunification have risen from 14 per cent in 2015 to 30 per cent today.

Brexit also appears to be behind the increase in people across the UK in favour of scrapping the first-past-the-post electoral system: this has been driven by people who vote Labour and voted Remain in 2016.

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