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  1. Politics
6 June 2016

What happens if England votes to Leave the EU but the UK votes Remain?

How the referendum result could trigger a surge in English nationalism. 

By George Eaton

For years, the possibility that Scotland could vote to remain in the EU while the rest of the UK votes to leave has been discussed. Though the country rejected independence after the Conservatives promised a referendum, the SNP contends that Brexit would justify a second vote. The party’s 2016 Holyrood manifesto stated that the Scottish Parliament “should have the right to hold another referendum” if there is “a significant and material change … such as Scotland being taken out of the EU against our will”.

But another potential split has received far less attention: England voting to leave while the UK votes to remain. Since the campaign began, several polls have produced precisely this outcome. On 30 April, for instance, an Opinium survey showed England and Wales voting Out (43-41 and 42-35) but Scotland voting In (51-34), resulting in an overall Remain victory of 42-41 (the pro-EU Northern Ireland was not polled). The National Centre for Social Research has calculated that an Out vote below 52.5 per cent in England could deny the Brexiters victory. 

Were this scenario replicated on 23 June, the result would be a surge in English nationalism. The “subsidised Scots” would stand accused of denying Albion freedom. Short of Brexit, it would be the dream outcome for Ukip, some of whose members are more concerned with building the party than with winning the referendum. A Conservative MP told me: “It could be an unprecedented constitutional crisis”. The pro-Leave Frank Field said that while the result should be respected (“This is a UK referendum”), a split vote would strengthen demands for an English parliament. The scenario is plausible enough for all parties to consider how they would respond. 

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