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How Would Brexit Affect Wales, Scotland and Northern Ireland?

One thing's for sure: it's going to be pretty shit if you live on the Irish border.

by Tess Reidy
15 June 2016, 12:00am

(Photo by Callum Black, via)

For many, it's been a bit of a struggle to comprehend this whole EU referendum. One of the reasons is that – if you live in England, at least – it's all macro-economic arguments and issues of security and diplomacy, none of which are likely to affect your day-to-day life for some time to come.

For the three other British nations, however, it's more of a head-fuck. Brexit could have a bunch of very real, immediate consequences for Scotland, Wales and Northern Ireland, many of which could be felt within days of a vote.

So how would a Brexit fuck the nations? Let's get into it.

WALES

Wales has, in direct financial terms, the most to lose from EU membership. The region labelled West Wales and the Valleys, which economically lags behind most areas in the EU, receives the highest level of EU support. Wales has benefited from just over £4 billion since 2000 from structural funds, and is expected to receive another £1.8 billion between 2014 and 2020. That doesn't include the £200 million a year they get from the Common Agricultural Policy, payments that go directly to Welsh farms.

Surely, then, the Welsh would be keenest to stay in the EU? Apparently not. The polls are predicting a slight lead for the Remain camp, but the Leave vote is strong, particularly in rural areas. According to Iain Mclean, Professor of Politics at the University of Oxford, farming is a bigger deal there than the EU regional funds, and lots of farmers are pro-Leave. He believes this is largely the result of misinformation. "Farmers seem to think their subsidies will continue, and I don't know why they think that," he says.

SCOTLAND

For Scotland, a leave vote would be something of a political nightmare; the Remain campaign has a strong lead here. One of the winning arguments in the Scottish referendum was that if Scotland chose to leave the UK, it would jeopardise its EU membership. So it's likely the Scots wouldn't take kindly to being forced out of the EU after just choosing to stay in it. They may even argue that they were lied to – that they would have had a better chance of staying in the EU if they'd left the UK.

It might seem likely, then, that a second Leave vote would lead to a second Scottish referendum – but it might not be that simple. "This is looking like Nicola Sturgeon's golden opportunity, but she is downplaying it because current polls point to No in a second Scottish referendum," says Mclean. "If she loses another referendum, the cause is toast."

That being said, if the polls change and the SNP feel confident they could win a second referendum, a Leave vote would certainly open the door. "While it can't be said for certain that a second Scottish referendum would result in the break-up of the UK, you would certainly expect the SNP to start the campaign with a great deal of confidence," says Adam Drummond, head of polling at Opinium.

However polling pans out, a Brexit vote would leave Scotland in a weird political lurch for many years to come and increase the political divide between Westminster and Holyrood.

NORTHERN IRELAND

Forget the still fragile peace process of a long disputed territory. Let's talk about the real issues: will a Leave vote turn the Republic of Ireland into a booze cruise destination for a load of plonky fools to drive into and buy their car's weight in wine?

The experts say no. "There will be no booze cruises," says Mclean. "Duty free is an anomalous concession and nobody will want to start one. The Republic of Ireland will want to keep the border open if we leave, even though it then makes both European and non-European migration to the UK impossible to control. You can expect a massive increase in smuggling, though."

The issue of the Irish border is one of the most complex in the whole debate. Currently people can move freely around the UK, Ireland, Isle of Man and Channel Islands within the Common Travel Area, and it's been like that since the UK joined the EU. You can travel from Dublin to Belfast to London without anyone looking at your passport. But if the UK leaves the EU, that border could become a "back door" into the UK, with European migrants travelling legally to Ireland and then onto Britain. Smuggling will also be a major issue, as some items imported through EU-negotiated trade deals could come to the UK, and vice versa, ignoring specific tariffs.

It's estimated that approximately 23,000 to 30,000 people commute across the Irish border to work, with many opting to live in Ireland but work in Northern Ireland, where wages are slightly better. These "border people" will live in a state of uncertainty until after the election, as it remains entirely unclear whether or not they will be able to keep that kind of working arrangement.

Although there is currently a strong Remain lead in Northern Ireland, as the only nation in the UK to share a border with an EU country, the impact of a Leave vote is particularly complicated. It's a disputed territory based on a series of fragile arrangements, and a Leave vote could jeopardise The Good Friday Agreement, and perhaps even be a breach of it. "The Catholic community may regard this as breaking with the terms of the agreement, denying them the rights on the basis of English voters," says Andrew Blick, lecturer in Politics and Contemporary History at King's College.

Not everyone is against Brexit in Northern Ireland, though; the Democratic Unionist Party (DUP) says the UK, as a whole, would be better off if we have control of our finances, our laws and our borders. "I think it's insensitive to suggest that The Good Friday Agreement could be damaged. People should be a bit more circumspect and not try to hype up fear on these issues. I think it shows the desperation that's setting in within the Remain camp," says a DUP party spokesperson.

The biggest issue in the regions, though, is that there is not much evidence to suggest there was overwhelming public demand for a referendum at all. Brexit is mostly a Conservative and UKIP issue, and both parties tend to struggle outside of England. Despite this, for the different nations, the repercussions of leaving are huge. Wales looks set to lose money, there will be an eternity of referendums in Scotland and Northern Ireland's stability may become fragile once again. There is definitely a scenario in which Brexit leads to the eventual break-up of the UK, too. If that happens, Cameron's referendum risk could turn out to be the biggest political misstep in the history of the (formerly) United Kingdom.

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