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Brexit Vote Inspires New Calls For Scottish Independence


There's no guarantee that the United Kingdom will stay together. NPR's Peter Kenyon has more details on that.

PETER KENYON, BYLINE: Two years ago, after a huge debate, voters in Scotland decided not to break away from England, Wales and Northern Ireland. A big reason was the European Union. Many voters felt the benefits of staying in the EU outweighed independence. That rationale, like so many assumptions, was blown out of the water by the Brexit vote, which has Scots once again talking indie ref, short for independence referendum.

CHARLIE JEFFERY: It certainly is a big deal to Scotland, and it certainly does put indie ref two on the table.

KENYON: That's Professor Charlie Jeffery at the University of Edinburgh. He says the referendum was a stark reminder to Scots of how different their pro-Europe views are from those of most English and Welsh voters. Simon Hix at the London School of Economics agrees. He says Scottish MPs are now hearing from constituents who are eager for another chance at that independence vote.

SIMON HIX: To a lot of Scottish people, this feels like this is England voting to take Scotland out of the EU against Scotland's wishes. The other key issue is Northern Ireland.

KENYON: That's right, the urge to pull out of the U.K. is also growing in Northern Ireland. The nationalist Sinn Fein Party is already calling for a vote on unifying the north with the Republic of Ireland. That would be fiercely opposed by Northern Ireland's intensely pro-British majority. Historian Eunan O'Halpin at Trinity College, Dublin, doesn't want to think about what this Brexit vote could mean for Northern Ireland's economic and political stability.

EUNAN OHALPIN: I'm feeling very depressed.

KENYON: Neither Irish nationalists nor unionists want to return to the bloody days of the Irish Republican Army and loyalist paramilitaries. But O'Halpin says one reason the tenuous peace agreement is largely held since the late 1990s is the generous flow of money to Northern Ireland from the EU, which would end after the U.K. negotiates its exit.

OHALPIN: If the money from Europe stops coming, I simply don't believe that there'll be a willingness from the English and Welsh taxpayers to continue to support Northern Ireland to the extent that they do, and I think that will contribute to economic and political instability within Northern Ireland.

KENYON: Take a look at all this from the vantage point of London - the prime minister stepping down, sparking a leadership fight within the ruling party, two years of very difficult negotiations with Brussels are looming and there are rumblings from both Scotland and Northern Ireland about breaking away.

I asked analyst Simon Hix how British leaders could manage to hold the U.K. together in this atmosphere of popular rebellion. He says it boils down to what kind of country the U.K. wants to be. There's clearly a strong isolationist, anti-immigrant sentiment these days, but Hicks believes there's still a more outward-looking British majority...

HIX: Who are in favor of Britain carrying on being an open, cosmopolitan, liberal place with very close relations with the rest of Europe. If that latter vision of Britain is what we eventually get to, that might be a way of holding the United Kingdom together.

KENYON: Peter Kenyon, NPR News, London. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.

Peter Kenyon is NPR's international correspondent based in Istanbul, Turkey.