Britain’s “Hard Brexit” strategy could trigger independence of Scotland, Northern Ireland and the Republic of Ireland

Hammering out a swift trade deal with the U.S. promises to be the easy part, Brexit negotiations and dealing with its geopolitical fallout is likely to pose significant challenges to the United Kingdom.

Britain’s Prime Minister, Theresa May has finally shown some of her cards: in a decisive speech that set the course for a “hard Brexit”, May has set the course for a clean break with the world’s largest trading bloc – the European Union.

In clearest terms so far, May set out her vision of Britain’s future, saying while she seeks the greatest possible access to EU’s single block market, she aims to establish free trade deals with countries beyond Europe while impose immigration limits in the country.

“I want to be clear: what I am proposing cannot mean membership of the single market,” said May. “Instead, we seek the greatest possible access to it through a new comprehensive, bold and ambitious free trade agreement.”

With the media already briefed on the expectation that May will signal a hard Brexit, the sterling started its downward march. However market rallied when May revealed that parliament would roped in to vote on the final terms of Brexit, thus steadying her hand.

Complex Negotiations

The Brexit negotiations are going to be one of the most complicated post post-World War II, in European history, especially with Brussels’ goal of wrapping them up within two years of their starting.

Reactions to May’s speech ranged from lukewarm responses, laments, to downright welcomes.

While Tomas Prouza, Czech Republic’s secretary of state for EU affairs, tweeted, “Where is the give for all the take?”, Donald Tusk, EU’s Council President lamented on what he termed as a “sad process, surrealistic times”.

Germany’s economic and foreign secretaries were those who welcomed the greater clarity on Britain’s intentions, which essentially removed the guesswork on its intents.


Scottish Independence

While May’s speech has finally given some clarity on the country’s future course, it has met with some dissent from within the UK.

During the June 23 2016 referendum the majority in Scotland voted to remain within the EU, thus raising fears that Scotland will now want a referendum for its independence from Britain, which incidentally was rejected by Scottish voters in 2014.

Britain’s position within the EU and the times have however changed.

“The UK government cannot be allowed to take us out of the EU and the single market, regardless of the impact on our economy, jobs, living standards … without Scotland having the ability to choose between that and a different future,” said Scotland’s First Minister, Nicola Sturgeon following May’s speech.

May has indicated that her negotiating priorities included leaving the jurisdiction of the European Court of Justice, limiting immigration and ending the full membership of the customs union that sets external tariffs for goods imported into the bloc.

However, May has said she wants a trade deal with the EU to be as “frictionless as possible”.

Britain’s industry could relocate

Britain’s financial industry, which accounts for nearly 10% of its economy, has finally got some clarity to push ahead with its plan of relocating to the EU so that they can continue to sell their services to the bloc.

With the country’s car sector being overwhelmingly foreign-owned, SMMT, an industry body stated that participation in the customs union was vital to retain trade, while Germany’s BMW said it was essential to retain “uncomplicated, tariff-free access” to EU’s single bloc market.

Britain will now trigger article 50 of the Lisbon-EU treaty by the end of March 2017, thus ushering a two year period of negotiations. May has stated that she wants the terms of Britain’s exit to be determined by these two years, while new rules can be implemented as and when necessary.

“It is in no one’s interests for there to be a cliff edge for business or a threat to stability,” said May. “We will do everything we can to phase in the new arrangements we require.”

In order to contain the flight of industry, she hinted that Britain could offer tax breaks.

British finance minister, Philip Hammond, told the British parliament that Britain could get tough with the EU if a comprehensive trade agreement with the bloc was not forthcoming.

“If we don’t (get a sensible Brexit deal), the people of this country are not simply going to lie down and accept that we will be poorer,” said Hammond. “We will do whatever it takes to maintain our competitiveness and protect our standard of living.”

Political considerations

However, such posturing could give way given that Northern Ireland, the part of the UK which is most exposed to Brexit due to its land border with the Republic of Ireland, faces increased political paralysis following the collapse of the government which shared power between Catholics and Protestants.

Although May harped on “strengthening the union”, if Scotland seeks independence, it wouldn’t take long before Northern Ireland follows suit.

As per Gerry Adams, president of the Sinn Fein party shared power in Northern Ireland is a growing force in the Republic of Ireland, it would be hard to see how May’s Brexit strategy will work without significant changes to the border arrangements between north and south.

U.S. President-elect Donald Trump in his trade mark fashion said Brexit will turn out to be a great thing. He has promised to strike a swift trade deal with Britain.

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