Ben Lowry: UK already in peril and Brexit could worsen it

Stay together? EU and UK flags
Stay together? EU and UK flags

There is a factor that is of specific concern to Northern Ireland in the Brexit debate - the other Union (ie the UK).

Unionist eurosceptics get agitated if this is mentioned.

Ostensibly this is because they think an EU Out and the integrity of the UK unrelated.

But I wonder if the wiser among them in fact sense that an EU exit does indeed put the future of the UK at risk and they are (understandably) bothered at the thought that such an important decision such as the UK’s place in Europe might be influenced by nationalists (of the Scottish or Irish variety).

My sense is that Scotland is heading towards a UK exit in any event (and my feeling that that was so actually increased after I was in Scotland for the referendum, not decreased as I wrote in late 2014).

This could be utterly wrong – I thought Canada was toast after the 1995 Quebec referendum (when French speaking separatists got within 0.6% of quitting).

Emboldened by the near victory, I thought Quebec would depart after one more push. The opposite happened – separatism went off the agenda.

Perhaps the same will happen in Scotland and nationalism will fade.

But I do think a Brexit will inflame nationalists there and here.

Both Scotland and Northern Ireland will vote ‘In’.

Our Province will vote to stay by perhaps the biggest margin in the UK (70% or so), in much the way that 71% backed the Belfast Agreement.

Support will be high for similar reasons to the 1998 referendum: nationalists will be 95%+ ‘In’ so that even if unionists are 60% ‘Out’ (and I doubt they will be as eurosceptic as that) any opposition among the latter will be insufficient in scale to outweigh the former.

In the overall vote, England will probably be decisive as it is 85% of the UK (unless it is so narrowly split that Scottish or NI votes become critical). If Scots or nationalists here feel they have been turfed out of the EU by Little Englanders, they will go berserk.

Middle England will not be influenced in its decision by what it would consider to be whinging on the Celtic fringe.

That gulf in attitudes would lead to a push for a new Scottish referendum and for a border poll here.

One side of my head says we must not let such nationalism dictate UK decisions on the EU. A more pragmatic side says we must factor it in.

Until nine days ago, London barely even raised a voice in defence of the state’s role in patiently suppressing terrorism while maintaining the rule of law during the Troubles.

You would not want to bet that if (post a Brexit) it was a choice between tightening the Irish land border or tightening up on travel across the Irish Sea (passports etc) they would plump for the former.

Ben Lowry: Why I am now moving from bein an EU ‘Out’ to an EU ‘In’

Ben Lowry in 2014: Why I think that the UK is in peril