Parliament in Westminster confirmed the follow-up agreement to Brexit with a strong majority of 521 to 73 votes – but outside London, the rejection could hardly have been clearer. Of the three state parliaments, only Wales approved the deal negotiated by Prime Minister Boris Johnson, while Scotland and Northern Ireland clearly rejected the deal. Both had already voted against leaving the EU in the 2016 Brexit referendum. Your current rejection is mainly of a symbolic nature – but does not bode well for future negotiations and the unity of the nation.
In Scotland, Nicola Sturgeon, head of the country, railed against the deal that Prime Minister Boris Johnson had presented to his nation as a “small gift” for Christmas. The parliamentarians in Edinburgh then voted 92 to 30 against the agreement, which, according to Sturgeon and their Scottish National Party (SNP), offered the country “no advantages, only massive disadvantages.” Her party refuses to be complicit in how “serious damage is done to Scotland’s ecological, economic and social interests.”
In addition to the Greens and Liberal Democrats, the Labor Party in Scotland also joined the rejection – and received harsh criticism in the rest of the country. Labor leader Keir Starmer had sworn his party to support the agreement. After all, this is better than starting the new year without a follow-up deal.
State party leader Richard Leonard defended his revolt against this Labor requirement and also received cross-party support when he proposed an expansion of the law to the Brexit follow-up agreement. Among other things, he calls for an equivalent replacement for the Erasmus exchange program for students, from which Great Britain is now leaving.
Rare agreement in Northern Ireland – on finding the scapegoat
In the Northern Irish capital, Belfast, 47 MPs voted against the deal and 38 in favor. The parliamentarians, as well as the Scots, recalled that their part of the country had voted against leaving the EU from the beginning and was not prepared to accept its devastating consequences.
There was seldom agreement, at least on the question of who was responsible, between the otherwise oppositionally positioned pro-Irish Sinn Féin and the pro-British Ulster Unionists. Both attributed responsibility for the unfortunate deal to Northern Ireland’s strongest ruling party, the pro-British Democratic Unionist Party (DUP).
As a former coalition partner of the British Conservatives, the DUP had supported the Brexit course – but was subsequently dropped with its conditions after the Conservatives had achieved their own stable majority. As a result, among other things, Johnson broke his promise that there would be no customs controls between Northern Ireland and the rest of the kingdom – which will be the case from January 1, 2021. Unionists fear that this will cut them off from Great Britain and lose importance within the kingdom.
“It’s a shame,” said Mervyn Gibson, secretary-general of the pro-British Protestant Orange Order to the Reuters news agency, in front of his home in Belfast. “We were abandoned and indeed betrayed by the Prime Minister.”
The DUP rejected the guilt of the effective maritime border from January. Rather, the pro-Irish parties created this situation by rejecting the alternative to the maritime border – controls at the land border with the Republic of Ireland, the DUP announced. The EU also rejected a hard land border, which saw the peace on the Irish island at risk.
Agreement despite frustration in Cardiff
Wales was the only part of the country apart from England to approve Brexit in 2016 – and also waved Johnson’s deal through with 28 to 24 votes in the current vote. Even there, however, Prime Minister Mark Drakeford spoke of a “thin and disappointing” deal. After all, you can build on the deal and negotiate better contracts for the future, said the country manager.
Labor holds a majority in the Welsh parliament – and parliamentarians, unlike their Scottish party friends, stuck to the Labor party line in support of the agreement.
The divided kingdom
In the vote on the Brexit follow-up agreement, the state parliaments only had a symbolic handle. Yet their rejection of the course of government shows how badly unity in the kingdom is.
In Northern Ireland, for example, the nationalist Sinn Féin is increasingly seeing Brexit as an opportunity to regain independence from London 100 years after the annexation to the United Kingdom. “More and more people are wondering what their identity is outside the EU and what Brexit has done to their identity,” said John O’Dowd, a member of Sinn Féin in the Northern Irish Parliament. He pointed to the annexation to the Republic of Ireland as a possible solution.
In Scotland, on Christmas Eve, the SNP had advertised independence from Great Britain and membership of the EU on Twitter: “We never voted for this extreme Tory deal”.
The head of government generously reported against the leadership in London: “The system in Westminster can no longer be repaired,” she said in the course of the vote, and Scotland’s opinion had been ignored in London at all times “during this fiasco”. Even before Brexit, your SNP was calling for Scotland to be independent from the United Kingdom and, if it succeeds, would like to rejoin the EU as a separate country. “We deserve the best possible deal – as an independent European country.”