The uncertainty of Brexit is affecting all of the British Isles and there seems to be no way out for the regions who voted majority to remain. But what if there was an alternative in the form of a Celtic federation? Ken Sweeney is interested in the prospect and thinks a discussion on the subject should begin.

There never seems to be a day gone by that we don’t hear about that referendum from June 2016. And while this week we see the latest poor sucker in the form of Dominic Raab trying to be the spokesperson for the British Government in what is now the most unsolvable issue in the recent history of European politics, the rest of those affected, mainly the Scots, Welsh and Irish, yet again wait and see what implications a primarily English decision is going to have on their daily lives. And make no mistake, the outside impact of Brexit will hit these regions the hardest. France, the Netherlands and Belgium will feel a negative kick in the short- to mid-term on their respective economies, but the British regions of Scotland and Northern Ireland, both of whom voted a majority in favour of EU membership, along with Wales and the Republic of Ireland will be counting the cost of Brexit for decades to come.

Waking up to Brexit

It is fair to say at this point that the Irish government has been busy getting ready for Brexit, hard or soft, since 2015 when the revenue commission drew contingency plans in the case of a leave outcome and not a week has passed when something in relation to Brexit hasn’t emerged from Dublin. And in Scotland the SNP, to a lesser extent, has also been planning for the worst, with the prospect of another independence referendum still being a strong possibility in the next five or so years. We even have members of the more moderate elements of the Unionist community in Northern Ireland speak of a border poll and advise the public to be prepared for the possibility of one occurring soon. And while there was a majority vote for Brexit in Wales, it has to be taken into account that the spill over from England was a factor in the result locally, but if any region seems to be contemplating a shift in the support for Brexit then it seems like the land of the dragon is looking that way.

When you count up all those in favour remaining across the regions, it looks pretty substantial, but not so influential nonetheless. Because despite certain levels of political devolution, the British regions do not posses the power to simply say no to Westminster and do their own thing, no matter how sensible it may seem. However, in the mid-term, I can see no reason why the momentum for a break up of the the United Kingdom will cease. If Britain should lose Scotland and Northern Ireland to an independence referendum or a border poll, then the demise of the union is the result.

We do seem focused on this concept that Northern Ireland must be a part of the Republic of Ireland and there is certainly just cause for it, but is the union of the island of Ireland the only outcome for Northern Ireland should the Brexit issues force the region to break away from the UK in some form?

An alternative response to Brexit

What if there was a viable alternative that would seek to keep a union, but not a British one? What is the case for Federal Celtic union? A union that would consist of Northern Ireland and Scotland, with an option for Wales to join at the point of conception. There could even be the element of bringing in the Republic of Ireland with the prospects of Dublin being the capital as a incentive. In many ways, it would solve the issue of how to integrate Northern Ireland and completely eliminate the most complicated issue in the Brexit negotiations – the Irish border. There would still be a border between Scotland and Wales but we would be looking at border without the politics of the past conflicts on the island of Ireland.

The upsides are that England effectively gets what it wants – to leave the EU while Scotland and Northern Ireland get to stay, along with Wales, should it decide to do so. If the Welsh referendum said no to the Celtic federation, then it has the option to follow England out and stay part of the original union.

Another advantage of bringing Ireland into the federation would be that the former British regions could bypass usual membership protocol and join the EU immediately as part of the Irish membership which would be expanded and modified. Dublin has already got this modification should Northern Ireland become part of the Republic of Ireland, so there may be room for more.

But while I recognise that this simplified suggestion here would obviously require a lot more detailed discussion, the undeniable fact is that somewhere down the line in the next few decades, the United Kingdom will look different on the map. Scottish independence is inevitable and if a hard Brexit happens, then it may be sooner rather than later. Northern Ireland is also facing a union with the Republic in our lifetime and while I would be against the prospect of it happening as a result of Brexit, I would be interested in the proposal of a federation, with Stormont, Leinster House, the Senedd and Hollyrood all having equal say in an exciting union that could be a model template for larger European integration.

Ken Sweeney
Committed to idea of supporting aspiring writers and journalists. Serial podcaster.

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    1. Perhaps. I think Wales might be a sticking point. It would be as likely that Cornwall, the Isle of Man and Bretagne would show degrees of interest in the idea. Since the UK is forcing what is now accepted as an inevitability that Scotland will eventually leave the UK and there are increasingly noticeable views of ‘getting rid’ of Northern Ireland at a higher political level; so the seeds of division have at least been sown. Some kind of open federation would suit their needs and somewhat alleviate Brexit borne problems, however perhaps stimulate separatism in the other Celtic areas. The idea has been floated a few times over many years but no time has been as right as now for it to be taken quite as seriously.

    2. I have been thinking of this for sometime and believe this is the best option for both Northern Ireland and Scotland. It solves the problem of the Irish ‘Protestants’ believing they will be forced into a catholic dominated state as they would have the Scottish element for balance. Scotland would have their aim of ‘Independence’ within a Celtic Union and then the EU. Wales I can not see joining until Port Talbot is closed, as they do not have any large Nationalist party with a viable chance of electoral success. NS should be floating the idea to LV now and bringing in the EU. To further resolve the issue of the ‘Unionists’ perhaps the parliament of the Federation could be Belfast. The Celtic Nations could ensure that a true equal federation is created without one country or region dominating as is current with the ‘United Kingdom’ of GB and NI.My only regret is that Norwich, Liverpool etc which voted remain will have to remain within the rump of a disunited kingdom and suffer the consequences of the decision made by less than one third of the population. .

    3. There are more than twice as many Remain voters in England and Wales than there are human beings (Remain, Leave or non-voting) in Scotland. Why should the historical/geographical accident of past statehood privilege some voters over others? We voted as individuals, not as constituencies or regions.
      The ‘Celtic’ label is just plain nonsense in 21C – if you’re talking about pre-Roman population roots, much of England is more ‘Celtic’ than parts of Scotland. Many of us are the same people anyway. My father was from the W Highlands, my mother from Yorkshire (which has about the same size population as Scotland but has nothing like the same level of autonomy). I’ve spent my 50-odd years evenly between Yorkshire and Scotland. I was living in Scotland in 2016 when I cast my Remain vote. I now live in Yorkshire, having moved back last year when my father was dying. Why should the value of my vote be treated differently on the basis of where I live? Why should I be treated as having less worth? Are the 2 of my father’s sisters who live in Scotland somehow more deserving than the one who lives in Lancashire?
      We should be destroying the concept of nation states, not creating new ones or resurrecting old ones. I cannot countenance a border being put through my family or my sense of self. It has taken me decades to be comfortable in my own skin, as both/and, not having to be either/or. You would make collateral damage of thousands, if not millions of families throughout Britain, many more than the EU citizens currently under threat.
      The current devolution arrangement is morally as well as politically wrong – because it overprivileges past states or statelets, and is not based on equal-sized population units. The “I’m all right Jack” mentality in Scotland about this, indifferent to lack of democratic equality in the rest of Britain, was one of the factors that led me to leave the SNP after devolution was gained. It was based on exceptionalism, not equality. This is no different.

      1. Brexit is going to speed up the break up of the UK.
        Now you can choose to get angry, feel left out or just downright disagree with my suggestions here and that’s okay but you cannot deny that some kind of break up will be a future outcome. Nit pick on the Celtic reference as well – sure what’s in a name?
        But the stark reality is that a certain selection of prominent individuals in Britain are now determined to decide the fate of millions and in amongst those are me – an Irish citizen who is not only being affected financially but also socially because I am going to be forced to pay for a premature union with Northern Ireland. My country can neither afford this nor is it ready for it at a society level.
        So, assuming that both Scotland and Northern Ireland are being dragged kicking and screaming from the EU, their alternative is independence. And my suggestion is independence within a federal union which in turn is a precursor of a larger federation of Europe – the disestablisment of the nation state like what you claim to desire.
        But as unfortunate as it is, England and most likely Wales will go it alone and take its citizens out of the EU.
        I sympathise with you but we should all choose our democracy with wisdom and unfortunately, in the case of England in particular, the choices have been the worst in recent history. So do I still think that a Celtic federation is a good idea? Probably – like I wrote, I am not fully convinced but I do believe that it needs to be part of a larger discussion on federalism. As for England and Wales, they need to redesign their democracy first before they can step back in the EU.
        But whatever the outcome of March 2019, the future map of the UK is about to be drastically redrawn. Time will tell what colours it will have.

    4. As a footnote to this article and the preceding comments, things develop fast since England pulled the EU plug. The end game is now on, so perhaps a Celtic federation is a little less than just an idea. http://www.theguardian.com/politics/2018/oct/07/nicola-sturgeon-snp-undoubtedly-back-peoples-vote-brexit

    5. Another possibility is that Britain stay in the EU and England – and perhaps Wales – leave Britain.
      London and surrounds would perhaps be left out, but solutions can be found there too….

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