4 September 2019
By Martina Bet
Brexit has often been used by nationalists – particularly the SNP – as justification for the break-up up the Union. However, a constitutional reform backed by three First Ministers could save the UK after an EU divorce deal is settled, Express.co.uk can exclusively reveal.
Fears that the UK could unravel have become the subject of urgent discussion recently. A shock poll today suggests the SNP will wipe out the Scottish Tories in a future general election, paving the way for Nicola Sturgeon to make her bid to break up the Union with a second independence referendum. The survey, carried out for The Times in Scotland, also found more Scots want a second vote on independence in the next five years than are against. Former Prime Minister Gordon Brown issued a stark warning in August, claiming that the Union is “sleepwalking into oblivion” due to “destructive nationalist ideology”, concluding that “we are, at best, only a precariously United Kingdom”.
If a hard border is erected in Ireland, 65 percent of Northern Irish people would back a united republic.
The departure of Scotland alone would see the Union lose 32 percent of its territory and 8 percent of its population.
There would also be serious questions about the UK’s nuclear weapons, which are currently north of the border at Faslane.
As many political analysts warn of a constitutional crisis, a cross-party group has devised a plan to prevent the break-up.
The Constitution Reform Group (CRG), an all-party project convened by former leader of the House of Lords, Lord Salisbury, is currently advocating for the Act of Union Bill – a ready-made Bill which includes proposals to stop this impending break-up.
The question of how power will be redistributed among the four nations and parts of the UK from the EU once Brexit has happened still needs to be determined.
The CRG believes that the blueprint could be used to resolve this pressing issue, by proposing a federal structure for the continuation of the Union, establishing the principle of self-determination among all four parts.
Talking exclusively with Express.co.uk, Lord Salisbury revealed that the Bill is not only backed by retired Parliamentarians but also three former First Ministers and three active MPs, Lisa Nandy, Bim Afolami and Seema Malhotra.
A CRG spokeswoman later confirmed that the three First Ministers in question are from Wales, Scotland and Northern Ireland respectively.
Explaining the Bill, Lord Salisbury said: “What this bill does, it provides that all four parts of the Kingdom, and England, agree with the centre what powers are going to be exercised by the centre over Scotland, England, Wales and Northern Ireland.
“They are not necessarily going to be the same powers, but that should be by agreement.
“And in this Bill, this agreement would be laid out and would see the surrender of all the sovereignty from the centre to all the constituents parts of the Kingdom.
“Simultaneously in the same piece of legislation, the powers which had been previously agreed by the four parts with the centre would be reconfirmed by the centre.
“That deals with consent, particularly if you think it can only become law once the four constituents parts have approved by referendum the provision of the bill.
“So there is a sort of double lock on that.”
With devolution in 1997, Parliament granted powers to the Scottish Parliament, the National Assembly for Wales and the Northern Ireland Assembly.
England is therefore the only country of the United Kingdom to not have a devolved parliament or assembly, as English affairs are decided unanimously in Westminster.
Although this constitutional grey area has existed for years, the changes brought about by Brexit are likely to highlight it even more.
Lord Salisbury suggested that it is for this reason, the CRG is particularly interested in looking at the governments of England.
So far, the Act of Union Bill proposes two alternatives on this matter.
A spokeswoman for the CRG said: “The first model is the creation of a directly elected English Parliament to deal with non-central areas.
“The second model provides for a regional devolution option whereby the UK Parliament would continue legislating both on central matters for the UK as a whole and on all matters for England.
“It would put the English Votes for English Laws system on a statutory basis by restriction.”
The Act of Union Bill is currently awaiting its second reading.
In the meantime, the cross-party group is developing and expanding the clauses within the Bill and welcoming feedback from those interested in contributing.
The Bill would only come into force if approved by a referendum with a majority of votes cast in the UK as a whole at 65 percent and on a majority in each of England, Scotland, Wales and Northern Ireland.
Former Labour MP and ex-chairman of Vote Leave Gisela Stuart is also on the steering committee of the group.
You can access the full article on the Daily Express website here.