Sunak’s Confusion Over Separatist Movements – OpEd


One of the major arguments of the opponents of Brexit was that it will revivify separatist movements in British territory. These talks were heated not long after the failure of the Scottish independence referendum, and even the leader of the Brexit and British independence movement believed that separatism would not succeed for at least another generation. Proponents of staying in the European Union warned that after Brexit, other Commonwealth countries, especially Scotland, would be forced to raise their independence issue again by holding a referendum. At the same time, Ireland is also trying to remain a member of the European Union in the process of negotiations leading to an agreement between England and the European Union.

Apart from Scotland, the separation of Northern Ireland and joining the Republic of Ireland is another issue that will put a lot of pressure on London. Therefore, six years after the victory of the Brexit supporters in the referendum and more than two years after the announcement of the official withdrawal from the EU, the fate of the separatist movement in Northern Ireland and Britain’s plan to deal with it is not clear. 

To begin with, compared to 2016, separatism has gained more supporters according to the polls and the people of Northern Ireland are more and more in favor of separating from the United Kingdom and joining the Republic of Ireland. Apart from the polls, there are many other reasons for strengthening this movement after Brexit. The main and most obvious reason is that for the first time in the history of Northern Ireland, the Catholic and Protestant populations are equal. Another issue is Brexit itself. Fifty-six percent of people in Northern Ireland voted to remain in the EU, and a very large part of these people want to keep the relationship with the European Union.

As the foundations of the government in Britain have weakened, many believe that the British government will not succeed in finding solutions to the Brexit-caused border problems between the two Irelands. The agreements that have been made so far are not stable and reliable from the point of view of the Irish separatists. Because the most important group of Irish people are nationalists who usually vote for separatist parties in elections and have made secession from England the issue of the majority. Among these people, about 88 percent voted against Brexit. Therefore, it is very likely that the UK’s shaky government and the uncharismatic Charles III’s persistence on Brexit even radicalizes people.  

Another important factor is the weakening of Protestant parties. The British electoral system is designed to make the election results in favor of the Protestants. In this electoral method, the candidate who receives the largest number of votes wins the election, regardless of whether or not he gets more than 50% of the votes. Because in the past, the population of Protestants was larger than Catholics, the election results were in favor of Protestants, who were more united than Catholics. But in recent years in Northern Ireland, Protestants and supporters of Britain have been divided, and this has complicated the daily politics in Northern Ireland, and the radical parties that support separation from England were able to prevent the formation of the local government of Northern Ireland. The inability of the opponents of separatism to govern Northern Ireland has increased the likelihood of separatists’ success.  Therefore, the issue of the equality of the population of Catholics and Protestants is not a problem that the new Prime Minister can easily find a solution for.

On the other hand, with the memory of the history of the civil war fading and the Catholic Church in the Republic of Ireland weakening, as well as the country’s move towards secularism, the opposition of Irish Protestants to joining the central government has worn down. This development has created a better ground for the acceptance of the Irish national identity, especially among the Protestant youth.

Another noteworthy point is the depreciation of British identity in relation to Irish and European identity for Irish people as Irish politicians sometimes use the mechanisms of the European Union to oppose the policies of the central government. These developments have brought the positions of the Protestant population, especially the youth, and Catholics of Northern Ireland closer to each other and strengthened the public support for separatism among the public opinion and elites of Northern Ireland. Therefore, the issue of the separation of Northern Ireland and Scotland from the United Kingdom, which once seemed like a far-fetched dream for the supporters of this separation, is now closer to reality as shown by the polls. Also, British governments have become more unstable and ultimately more unsuccessful in managing the challenge of separatism. Even the strict Liz Truss did not have time to take action against this wave of separatism.

The most important issue facing the resigned Prime Minister of the United Kingdom, Liz Truss, was the issue of reforming the power-sharing agreement in Ireland, which was created in the process of agreement with the European Union. Truss believed that Britain’s influence had been reduced under the EU-UK deal to resolve the Northern Ireland border crisis. He tried to break this agreement and make changes in Northern Ireland’s deal with the EU that would benefit the UK. Truss sought to pass legislation to ensure that the judgments of British courts prevailed over local courts in Ireland and ultimately to ensure that trade relations between Northern Ireland and the United Kingdom would not be disrupted. Her failed efforts were her own goal. Fortunately, Liz Truss was forced to resign after six weeks, leaving behind a historic short-lived government. 

Despite its short life, Liz Truss’ government left several domestic and foreign problems for Sunak. Truss supported negotiations with the Irish separatists, but due to his maximalist positions on the integrity of British sovereignty, she did not succeed and made concessions to the other side. Irish parties boycotted negotiations with the European Union during her tenure as prime minister. Truss’s staunch support for Brexit was an issue that divided her and Northern Ireland. Therefore, it can be said that Truss’s policy was to resist the Irish separatists and not accept their demands and to preserve the integrity of British sovereignty at any cost by using the law, a policy that Truss never had the opportunity to implement. In fact, Truss, both closed the doors of dialogue and invalidated the laws by strengthening the legal positions. This situation will make things very difficult for Sunak.

The unprecedented disorder and instability of governments in Britain, especially the short life of governments that approved of leaving the European Union, shows what heavy costs Brexit has had so far for regulating the domestic and foreign relations of the United Kingdom. Economic challenges, the lack of border control, the decline and weakening of the Protestants and the division between them and the British supporters, the depreciation of British identity, as well as the death of Queen Elizabeth and the election of the unpopular Charles as the British king are factors that increase dissatisfaction and separatism components in Ireland and Scotland.

Sarah Neumann

Sarah Neumann is a professor of political science and teaches political science courses at Universities in Germany

3 thoughts on “Sunak’s Confusion Over Separatist Movements – OpEd

  • December 29, 2022 at 4:15 am

    Sarah, get up to speed please with the differences between England, Britain and the United Kingdom.
    First sentence: Northern Ireland though part of the United Kingdom is not on British territory, it’s on Irish territory. Pro republicans in Northern Ireland aren’t separatists. As an occupied province of another country, rejoining the republic is not separatism, e,g are the pro Ukrainian Ukrainians living inside crimea separatists fir wanting to rejoin Ukraine? Of course not!

    First paragraph last sentence.
    Ireland is NOT trying to remain a member if the EU, nothing,absolutely nothing is putting that in jeopardy, unless you know something the rest of the world does not.
    An agreement between England and the EU? …. What? Don’t you mean the UK?.

    I doubt I’ve read such a muddled explanation of jumbo jumbo in my 60 years as this, it clarifies nothing and confuses and frustrates everything.

    Maybe you should take your journalism “skills’ elsewhere

    • December 30, 2022 at 6:41 pm

      Northern Ireland is British territory that is the official position of both the UK and Irish government and its explicitly reiterated in the Good Friday agreement signed by both party’s.

      NI has been part of the UK since its creation, its elected official’s opted out of leavening when the republic of Ireland wanted to become independent, which is why it still part of the UK and the rest of Ireland is not.

      • December 31, 2022 at 2:51 am

        FACT: NI is an Irish territory that’s part of the UK. The island of Britain is discrete from the island of Ireland .
        Stop getting Britain and UK mixed up … they ARE different things. If you can’t accept this basic fundamental fact, there’s no point posting your unsubstantiated opinion in the public domain


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