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23 June 2021

How Brexit changed us: I fear the Union may never recover

Brexit has sent a traumatic shockwave through the Union and all but destroyed the carefully balanced mechanisms that have kept it together. 

By Chris Deerin

Back in November 2015 I found myself in trouble over an article I had written. Provocatively headlined “Brexit Lunatics Will Destroy Britain”, it was my attempt as a Scot who had recently come through a bruising independence referendum to warn my English friends about what lay ahead.

I had been told repeatedly that the Brexit referendum would be different – there was less at stake, emotions wouldn’t run as high, people didn’t feel the same attachment to the EU as they did to the UK. Anyway, there was surely little chance of a Leave victory.

I begged to differ, and set out my concerns, warning that consequences could include “the resignation of the PM, the departure of Scotland from the UK, the capture of the Tory party by the right, an even more emboldened Labour left, the final diminishment of a once-great world power”. This didn’t go down well. “Alarmist nonsense”, was the general response. As a political commentator who has made his share of bad calls, I feel entitled to say that this was a rare occasion on which I got more right than wrong.

Since then, as a Scot, I’ve watched support for independence climb as No voters from 2014 who then voted Remain in 2016 have reconsidered their commitment to the UK. I’ve watched the SNP make hay with the rise of English nationalism and the base cynicism of Boris Johnson. And I’ve watched as the Westminster government has become ever more alien to ever more Scots.

Brexit has sent a traumatic shockwave through the Union and all but destroyed the carefully balanced mechanisms that have kept it together for more than three centuries. I’m not convinced it will recover.

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Chris Deerin is the New Statesman’s Scotland editor

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This article is from our “How Brexit changed us” series, marking five years since the referendum.