Scotland’s First Minister Ms Sturgeon renewed her case for independence after a majority of Scots voted to remain in the EU back in 2016. She claimed that the country was being taken out of the bloc “against its will”, therefore renewing her bid to break free of the rest of the UK. A majority of pro-independence MSPs secured seats in Holyrood last month, meaning Ms Sturgeon believes she now has a mandate to push ahead with Indyref2.
However, even if Downing Street were to grant her the constitutional powers to hold a legal referendum on the matter — something it has so far refused to do — and the country voted to leave the UK, it would be incredibly difficult for Scotland to actually break away, according to commentator Sean O’Grady.
Writing in The Independent, he said: “Brexit has made it far more difficult for independence to work as a proposition.
“In practical terms, if a free Scotland wants the kind of free and easy movements and relationship with England, Northern Ireland and Wales we all currently enjoy, then independence makes that impossible.
“Ask anyone in Northern Ireland, a relatively benign version of what happened.”
Mr O’Grady’s article was titled ‘Why Brexit has made Scottish independence virtually impossible’.
He described the Nationalists’ current campaign as “the kind of magical thinking” that characterised early Brexit negotiations.
The commentator added: “Northern Ireland provides living proof that you cannot have your cake and eat it.”
Northern Ireland presented one of the greatest obstacles during the Brexit negotiations, as it is part of the UK but the Good Friday Agreement means no hard border should be put up to separate it from its EU neighbour, the Republic of Ireland.
Prime Minister Boris Johnson agreed to the Northern Ireland Protocol to resolve the issue; while technically still leaving the EU, the region would follow the rules of the bloc’s single market and the customs union.
This prevented a hard border on the island of Ireland — but meant there was a so-called Irish Sea border put up instead, meaning there would be checks on goods between Britain and Northern Ireland.
Six months after the protocol came into effect, the EU and the UK are again at loggerheads over the bloc’s attempts to ban chilled meats coming from Britain into Northern Ireland.
The EU has even accused the UK of undermining the protocol by not carrying out full checks on supermarket goods, and has initiated legal proceedings.
There are other underlying tensions caused by the protocol too, which are expected to be discussed in the first official talks over implementing the post-Brexit trade deal later this year.
Law enforcement cooperation, fees for visa applications and tensions over fishing rights have hit the headlines since the Irish Sea border came into action.
After recent attempted crisis talks with the bloc, Brexit minister Lord David Frost admitted the protocol was “being implemented in a way which is causing disruption in Northern Ireland”.
He added: “We had some pretty frank and honest discussions about that situation.
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“No breakthroughs, but no breakdown either. But the issues are now becoming urgent and we now need to find solutions.”
Mr O’Grady’s argument suggests that an independent Scotland would find itself facing border issues as well.
He also claimed: “Like it does for Ireland, England represents a practically unavoidable land bridge to Europe, as well as a huge market in itself and getting around it will not be easy.”
The Northern Ireland Protocol has become such a prominent concern that US President Joe Biden is expected to tell his counterparts at this week’s G7 Summit in the UK that the Good Friday Agreement must be respected.
US National Security Adviser Jake Sullivan told the BBC: “I’m not intending to send any warnings.
“Our concern [on Northern Ireland] does run deep.
“That is simply a statement of principle.
“That’s how the President feels about this issue.”
Unionists in Northern Ireland have also protested against the protocol in recent weeks, with one rally expected to take place this week in Belfast.
Ms Sturgeon is expected to launch her bid for a second independence referendum after the pandemic has subsided.