Hosted by the Political Studies Association at the British Academy on 24 Jan 2019, this public panel discussed how Brexit might impact the future of the Union of the United Kingdom in political, social and economic terms – and whether we may even see the end of the UK as we know it.

The UK Referendum to Exit the European Union has altered the political landscape of the UK in ways that otherwise would have been unimaginable – putting, in many respects, under question the scope and future of the Union. 

After the Scottish Independence referendum in 2014, many commentators thought that this question was settled, and that the nations of the UK would be able to continue to forge a future together. However, Brexit has now cast further doubts on this. The nations of the UK have returned very different votes, driven by different motivations – showing a profound level of division of opinions that, more two years after the referendum, still remain unaddressed. In areas like Scotland and Wales, the respective national parties are picking up support and are actively seeking to politicise calls against Brexit, with a view to resort to the ‘independence card’ if their ‘voice’ continues to be disregarded by the government in London. Northern Ireland voted largely Remain, but now has to face the socio-political consequences of Brexit – with the risk of reopening conflicts and widen cleavages that many had hoped were a thing of the past. England too has revealed through the vote the presence of territorial, social and economic fractures – between big cities and town, urban and rural areas, North and South, cosmopolitans and backwaters, young and older voters. Beyond this, there remains the question of how repatriated powers will be distributed (or not) across the UK – throwing into sharp relief the issues that underpin the system of devolution in the UK and questioning, even, whether this could be thwarted through processes of re-centralisation. And, beyond all this, Brexit will have wide and potentially problematic economic consequences across and within the nations of the UK. Although this is just the tip of the iceberg, it is clear that Brexit is posing new and unexpected challenges to the Union, which could be further exacerbated by a No Deal exit. All these dynamics do and will continue to affect in a most profound way UK politics, and will reverberate across Europe too – especially in view of next years EP elections.

From various PSA specialist groups, the panel speakers at the PSA 2019 What's Happening event were: 

  • Timofey Agarin (Queen's University Belfast) from Ethnopolitics specialist group
  • Katy Hayward (Queen's University Belfast) from the Irish Politics specialist group
  • Matt Wall (Swansea University) from Elections, Public Opinion and Parties specialist group
  • Margaret Arnott (University of the West of Scotland) from the Parliaments specialist group
  • Scott Lavery (SPERI, University of Sheffield) from the British and Comparative Political Economy specialist group
  • Emily Rainsford (Newcastle University) from Young People's Politics specialist group


The evening was chaired by Stephen Bush, Political Editor at the New Statesman. 

Watch the event here: