Brexit Uncertainty, Scotland and the UK in 2018: Four Scenarios

Kirsty Hughes, 2017
Picture Credit: Kirsty Hughes

Introduction

If Brexit stays on track, and keeps to timetable, then by next autumn an exit deal will have been done. This will include an outline of the future UK-EU27 relationship – though detailed negotiation on that will be for the years after Brexit in March 2019.

But the Brexit process is unlikely to stay smoothly on track. The path to autumn 2018 looks murky indeed – political and economic uncertainty and instability loom. Few would place bets on Theresa May still being prime minister by then. But if not her, then who? Or will the Conservative government collapse before next autumn, with what implications for the Brexit process?

Jeremy Corbyn hopes in this latter scenario to be elected leading a radical Labour government – one that would implement, he says, a ‘jobs first’ Brexit. But would he definitely position Labour in a new election as a pro-Brexit party (as in June 2017) or might he shift? For now, Labour is supporting the UK leaving the EU concerned not to alienate ‘Leave’ voters while hoping, and rashly presuming, ‘Remain’ voters will not abandon them at the ballot box.

The Lib Dems still hope Brexit can be avoided via a second referendum on the Brexit deal but, apart from the Greens, no other party has yet supported this – even though public support for a second vote is growing. The Scottish National Party would, it says, welcome a ‘soft’ Brexit – or no Brexit for an independent Scotland in the EU – though a hard Brexit or ‘no deal’ Brexit would potentially be a clearer trigger for a new independence referendum. But whether the pro-independence side, and the SNP in particular, would want to exploit such an opportunity if it comes is an open question while support for independence remains clearly below 50%.

But neither the Lib Dems nor SNP are calling to halt the Brexit process now. The Lib Dems want a second EU referendum on ‘the deal’, the SNP perhaps a second independence referendum once ‘the deal’ is clear. In this, they are watching rather than leading public opinion – and the SNP is treading carefully around telling English voters what to do.

Meanwhile, business leaders in different sectors are sounding the alarm about the continuing uncertainty of where the UK is heading and the costs of a hard Brexit let alone of a ‘no deal’ Brexit.

Uncertainty will remain the watchword for now. A smooth path to autumn 2018 does not look likely. Scenarios abound as to how the next year could unfold. As well as deep political instability and uncertainty within the UK, there are various routes the Brexit talks could take – with the EU27’s stance centre-stage alongside the UK’s uncertain politics. And how much, and how obvious, economic fallout there is in the coming months will also feed strongly into the mix.