The break-up of the UK is coming – but will it be violent or peaceful?
By Charles TurnerBetween 1991 and 1995 two multinational states fell apart. Yugoslavia broke up in a civil war that killed 150,000, while Czechoslovakia broke up peacefully following referendums in both of its constituent parts. Another such state now faces the prospect of doing the same: the United Kingdom. How might it happen? Where does the UK lie on the spectrum where one end is Yugoslavia and the other is Czechoslovakia?If you agree with the late Roger Scruton that we are a “settled people” and think it matters that few people in the UK are into gun ownership, then we are so clearly at the Czechoslovak end that the question is absurd. But it’s worth remembering that in April 1992, with the war over Croatia underway, Bosnian Muslims, Croats and Serbs demonstrated in Sarajevo to tell the world that the same could not happen there. They were wrong, and for the next three years the worst men in Bosnia did what the worst men everywhere do if a train of events happens under the right structural conditions.In Bosnia those conditions included two religious and geopolitical fault lines, one between the Christian and Islamic worlds, the other between the Catholic and the Orthodox Christian worlds. They were not the ‘ancient hatreds’ too many talked about, but they did assert themselves in the way outside states backed one side or the other.Bohemia used to be on a fault line of its own – the Catholic/Protestant one that plunged central Europe into the Thirty Years War. But by 1992 the plates had long stopped rubbing against one another and in any case the Czechs – the most secular people in Europe – had no interest in holding on to poorer and more religious Slovakia. Referendums in each part showed a majority for separation.The UK has a Catholic/Protestant fault line too. In Northern Ireland it was active for 30 years and killed 3,500 people – equivalent to 200,000 for the UK as a whole. Two decades on from the Good Friday Agreement, the people of Northern Ireland don’t want to revisit that nightmare, which means that if there is a no-deal Brexit and Northern Ireland becomes a smuggler’s paradise in January, a border poll later in the decade may well see both parts of Ireland agree, if not exactly as amicably as Czechs and Slovaks agreed to part, to unite as a new and sovereign member of the European Union.Remarkably, the people of the rest of the UK will have had no say in the matter. Moreover, many of the leading English Brexiters will accept a vote for Irish unity. The Northern Ireland Protocol and the internal market bill are meant to keep NI in the UK for now, but if push comes to shove, they will let it go without a fight.Contrary to the current talk of the British empire and the nostalgia around it, they are not