Who can stop United Kingdon breaking up under Boris Johnson? – Andrew Vine

AN American friend habitually refers to our Monarch as “the Queen of England” whenever he emails, most recently to commiserate about the death of Prince Philip.

Is Boris Johnson and Brexit putting the United Kingdom at risk?
Is Boris Johnson and Brexit putting the United Kingdom at risk?

I long ago gave up trying to correct him and point out that she is the Queen of the United Kingdom. He’s far from alone amongst his countrymen in equating her solely with England, a misconception fostered by the creaky old Hollywood costume dramas to which he is devoted.

Besides, the time may be coming when he’s right to refer to her as the Queen of England, because the United Kingdom over which she has reigned these 69 years is in danger of disintegrating.

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On this day 76 years ago, she left the confines of Buckingham Palace and mingled with the vast crowds outside the gates celebrating Victory in Europe Day, a moment of glorious national solidarity in which everyone, whether English, Welsh, Scottish or Irish, gave thanks for what they had achieved together.

Scotland's First Minister Nicola Sturgeon, the leader of the SNP, will hope this week's Holyrood elections give her a mandate for a second referendum on Scottish independence.

There is no such solidarity now. Ours is a disunited kingdom, its constituent nations drifting apart and even regarding each other with a degree of distrust.

For all the waving of Union Jacks at moments of national celebration, be they a wartime anniversary or a royal wedding, loyalty to the concept of what the flag represents is waning.

As the results of this week’s elections continue to be counted and their implications debated, difficult questions of regional and national identity are being raised to which there are no clear answers.

A series of factors have come together to undermine the Union and divide its constituent parts – a rise in nationalism, lingering unease about Brexit and what it means for Britain’s role in the world, and a Government unable to connect with large areas of the country.

Arlene Foster, the outgoing First Minister of Northern Ireland, at a service this week to mark Northern Ireland's centenary.

Just as worryingly, nobody seems to have much idea what to do about 
them, especially not the Prime Minister.

Instead of a compelling case being made for the Union, the only strategy on offer from Boris Johnson is to throw money about in the hope that will make growing calls for independence go away.

It won’t. Nor will the interventions of former Premiers Tony Blair, Sir John Major and Gordon Brown. There is no doubting the sincerity of their advocacy of the Union, but all are yesterday’s men and no match for a seductive nationalist narrative of a brighter tomorrow.

It’s in Scotland where that narrative is being pushed especially hard by the SNP, despite the result of the 2014 referendum, which all sides agreed should settle the matter for a generation.

But the seething mass of grievance that is First Minister Nicola Sturgeon won’t settle for anything less than another vote, maybe as early as 2023. She is currently the greatest threat to the Union.

Despite the Institute for Fiscal Studies pointing out that two-thirds of Scotland’s funding comes from the rest of the UK, the SNP has successfully fostered a story that Scots are hard done-by, somehow victims of their bigger neighbour south of the 

What rubbish. Without the rest of the UK, in particular the taxes paid by the reviled English, Scotland would be a basket-case. The SNP’s toytown economics don’t add up.

Let’s not forget at the time of the 2014 vote, the SNP pitch was that North Sea oil revenues would be the bedrock of an independent Scotland’s wealth. Shortly afterwards, world oil prices collapsed.

SNP stewardship of Scotland has been awful.

On its watch, health services and schools are worse-performing than in England, and social problems such 
as drinking and drug abuse have grown.

Yet, in spite of her dismal record in office, substantial numbers of Scots believe Ms Sturgeon’s story, which is proof of the old maxim about being able to fool some of the people all of the time.

It isn’t just Scotland, though. Northern Ireland, for so long and so tragically the most troubled corner of the UK, is going through new agonies of its own because of a botched Brexit deal that has left a border down the Irish Sea and empty shelves in its food shops as it marks its centenary this week.

The First Minister, Arlene Foster, is on her way out and Unionists are restless, not least because polling suggests increasing numbers of people, particularly the young, favour reunification with Ireland.

Wales, too, has its share of those clamouring for independence, though they have yet to make much of an impression at the ballot box.

All these things would be a problem for any Prime Minister. But for Mr Johnson, the difficulties are compounded by his toxicity to three out of the four nations of the United Kingdom.

He never goes near Scotland because he is such an effective recruiting sergeant for the SNP, and the Brexit deal has made him deeply distrusted in Northern Ireland. Wales also appears to regard him with suspicion.

So who will win hearts and minds back to the Union? Not Mr Johnson, however much he promises for roads and railways.

And not the Labour leader, Sir Keir Starmer, who, despite his obvious intelligence and decency, just isn’t connecting with voters.

There is a sense in all this of the United Kingdom drifting towards breaking up, because nobody in power has either the skills or credibility to get the message over of how much we all have to lose if the Union disintegrates.

And the pity is that those seduced by the fantasies spun about independence won’t realise just how much they have lost until it is too late.

* Read Andrew Vine in The Yorkshire Post every Tuesday.

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