Great Britain

Why Boris Johnson now looks more likely to preserve – not destroy – the union

F

or the best part of five years, there has been a gathering sense that the United Kingdom might not survive as a unitary state. The strains brought about by Brexit and the Covid-19 pandemic were combining to force the devolved nations apart.

Suddenly, though, what looked like an inexorable trend seems to be juddering to a halt, even going into reverse. Could it be that, far from going down in history as the prime minister who lost the union, Boris Johnson could emerge as the premier who saved it? And if he does, how much would that feat be down to him, and how much to what sometimes seems his infernal luck?

To recap: the result of the 2016 EU referendum was not just a defeat for those who voted to stay within the EU; it also confirmed the depth of disunity in the Kingdom. The threat posed by the Scottish referendum a year earlier had been averted, it seemed, only to spring back to life when the Brexit vote showed a clear division between Remain-voting Scotland and Northern Ireland, and Leave-voting England and Wales. A new push by the SNP for Scottish independence was one consequence.

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