Well, who saw that one coming? The rise and fall of Boris in just over a couple days. Boris must have an awful lot of enemies, both within and without the party for this to happen so quickly. From the words of Michael Gove and his wife, it seems that Boris was not reliably Brexit enough. After all Boris was always a bit of a reluctant Leaver, and his vision of a post Brexit UK sounded too close to the current position for many. Too many as it turned out.
The key divide, post Brexit, it seems to me, is between those who will reluctantly accept the result of the referendum, provided the UK stays in the Single Market, and those who want completely out. Without Boris it looks like the outers have won. All the four remaining candidates for the Tory leadership are committed to taking the UK out of the EU. Even Theresa May seems to have come down on the side of leaving the EU completely. The sticking point for her appears to have been the need to control immigration from the EU. Something that is incompatible with the Single Market.
This is potentially momentous. It does clear this aspect up quite considerably. The negotiations with the EU should be simpler, if not easier, and over sooner rather than later. Some arrangement will be needed to ensure access to the Single Market for goods, but it will be almost impossible to get more, access for services for example, without accepting the free movement of people. Which all the candidates have more or less ruled out.
This has made life a whole lot trickier for lots of people, including Scotland’s attempts to remain in the Single Market, let alone the EU. But not just Scotland, the two Irelands and even tiny Gibraltar will feel the impact of the UK leaving the Single Market.
In the case of Scotland this will both clarify and complicate matters. Staying in the Single Market, but leaving the EU, while not optimum, would nevertheless be an acceptable outcome for many. You get most of the benefits, trade and the free movement of people, which most Remainers value highly. It also and most importantly means that there will be no land border between Scotland and England in terms of trade. The downside for those in favour of independence is that this option might well make independence less appealing to some of those No voters who are reconsidering their position.
If, on the other hand, as now seems likely, the UK leaves the Single Market, this makes the choice very binary. The only way for Scotland to remain, not just in the EU, but in the Single Market, would be to become independent. However, with the rest of UK no longer in the Single Market, the trade and other links with rUK would become crucial. England will almost certainly remain Scotland’s most important trading partner. Can we ensure open access to England if Scotland remains in the EU? The question of a hard land border rears its ugly head again. Even those most in favour of remaining in the EU might baulk at independence if it meant restricted access to England.
However these questions are just as important for the republic of Ireland, perhaps even more so. Ireland has always been closely tied to the UK. Ireland has effectively been part of the British Single Market for decades. The Common Travel area ensures hassle free travel across the British Isles. Ireland only joined the UK when the UK did, and may never have done so, if the UK had not. Now of course as an established member of the EU, Ireland will face some very difficult choices if the UK does leave the Single Market. Can the Common Travel Area survive? Will there have to be a hard land border between Northern Ireland and the republic?
Paradoxically, this could help Scotland. If Ireland manages to successfully adapt to the UK leaving the Single Market, while remaining in the EU, then there is no reason why Scotland could not also do so.
The withdrawal of Boris will also impact on the Tory party itself. It is most strange that the Tory party does not have even the option of electing a leader who is in favour of remaining in the Single Market. Remember, most of the cabinet were in favour of at the very least remaining in the Single Market. While some have clearly changed their mind on this, can the same be said for all Tory MPs? This must be dreadful for the likes of Ken Clarke, John Major et al. While they are the old guard, presumably some of the current crop of Tory MPs share their view that leaving the Single Market will be disastrous for the UK. After all around 40% of Tory voters voted Remain. if, even 30% of Tory MPs are opposed to leaving the Single Market, it may prove impossible for the new PM to get this through Parliament. Whilst most people, at least in England and Wales, accept that the UK has to leave the EU, it is less clear how many people will be prepared to accept leaving the Single Market. As the Chinese saying has it, we live in interesting times, and they only look like getting even more interesting!