Brexit and the Union

Books & Articles
Brexit and the Nations
Michael Keating
First published: 27 November 2018


Brexit is presented as a move to restore British sovereignty. Initially this meant parliamentary sovereignty but the referendum may have replaced this with sovereignty of the British people. Either way it clashes with understandings in the peripheral nations, where the UK is seen as a plurinational union without a single demos or telos and resting upon shared sovereignty. These ideas receive expression in the devolution settlements. Such an understanding of the UK constitution renders it a good fit with the EU, which is precisely such a polity. EU membership has provided an important framework for the UK devolution. The Single Market provides for economic union within the UK itself and has allowed the opening of the border between the two parts of Ireland. The EU, together with the ECHR, establishes a common rights regime not dependent on shared identity.

Brexit thus puts strains on the internal union settlement. These are exacerbated by the differing referendum outcomes in the nations. Brexit could lead to recentralization as the UK reconstitutes itself as a unitary state; to decentralization as Scotland and Northern Ireland break away; or to differentiation as different parts of the union establish different relations with the EU.


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