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‘Wales may tag along with England if union breaks up’, says former Newsnight presenter

17 Jan 2021 4 minute read
The flags of Wales and England

A former Newsnight presenter has said that “Wales may tag along with England” if the union breaks up.

Gavin Esler made the claim in an extract of his new book, How Britain Ends – English Nationalism And The Rebirth Of Four Nations, which was published by the Mail on Sunday.

According to the ex-BBC journalist “we are witnessing the first whispers of how Britain ends” and the way to prevent it from happening is for the nations of the UK to get a form of “Home Rule”.

Mr Esler, who is Chancellor of the University of Kent, believes that Brexit has pushed Scotland closer towards independence and that Boris Johnson “shrank to becoming the Prime Minister of England only – and at times only parts of England” during the pandemic.

He said: “In the event of separation, Wales may tag along with England. Whether a continuing England- and-Wales union could legitimately be described as the ‘Rest of the United Kingdom’ is a matter of debate, since Wales is not by itself a kingdom, leaving aside the inelegance of the name.

“More importantly, there is no reason why England or England-and-Wales would automatically retain permanent member status on the United Nations Security Council. Nothing can be taken for granted.”


‘United in name only’

He added: “Whether you are a British unionist or one of the several versions of Scottish, English, Welsh or Irish nationalists, the truth is that the United Kingdom is now united in name only.

“The choice before us is either to come together and make profound changes to the way we are governed, or to accept that the UK is ultimately a failed state and agree to split apart.

“On the day we officially left the EU a year ago, Mr Johnson promised to bring the United Kingdom together, and, like Abraham Lincoln after the American Civil War, bind the nation’s wounds.

“The pandemic gave him a perfect opportunity to advance his levelling-up agenda – war and national emergencies have for centuries galvanised us into patriotic ‘Britishness’.

“There was co-ordination between London, Edinburgh, Cardiff and Belfast, and talk of forming a government of national unity or an advisory group of former prime ministers. But it soon became clear that none of that was part of Mr Johnson’s definition of ‘together’.

“Rapidly, the Prime Minister of the United Kingdom of Great Britain and Northern Ireland shrank to becoming the Prime Minister of England only – and at times only parts of England.

“The global health emergency prompted different national solutions, but in the UK the pandemic once more raised serious questions about our multinational state.

“Ms Sturgeon said she had no idea what Mr Johnson’s nebulous ‘Stay Alert’ message meant, and that anyone going into Scotland ‘for reasons that are not covered by those essential purposes, then you potentially would be breaking the law’.

“The Welsh Government, too, made it clear it would not be following Mr Johnson’s lead, and Northern Ireland also went its own way.”

‘Home Rule’ 

He said: “One possibility that would address the sense of democratic deficit felt in all regions of the UK might be the ‘Home Rule for all’ model championed by Joseph Chamberlain in the late 19th Century.

“Reinvigorating this idea would require devolving more powers to Scotland, Wales and Northern Ireland, plus rethinking the relationship between the regions of England and Westminster.

“Ultimately, I believe there are now two likely outcomes. One is that in the simmering rage of English nationalism, we are witnessing the first whispers of how Britain ends.

“The second possibility is that this discontent will prove to be the catalyst for a reinvention of the UK as some yet unclear but nevertheless newly Re-United Kingdom.

“A third option is maintaining the status quo – but following Brexit that is no longer possible.

“If a genuine reinvigoration is not achieved, or if it is botched, then the separation of England from Scotland, and possibly Northern Ireland, would lead to a full-blown political crisis.

“Home Rule for all nations will not be easy. But it is probably the last chance of saving the many good things about our United Kingdom. Another British reformation is overdue.”

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