In the wake of Brexit and in the midst of a global pandemic, the threat to the Union is greater than ever. Will the UK survive the perfect storm? Tom Huggins-Teasdale investigates.

The United Kingdom and Northern Ireland finds itself in a strange position in 2021. At its colonial peak in 1925, the British Empire covered 24% of Earth's land mass and counted over 400 million people among its subjects. As Queen Elizabeth (then Princess) once referred to it; a vast "family of nations".

Fast forward to 2021, however, and it finds itself much diminished – not just in terms of the territory it controls. The throes of the Covid-19 pandemic, uncertainty regarding the way Brexit will affect the economy and the growing possibility of a Scottish independence vote have left the once expansive nation divided in more ways that one.

The rise of populist politics has facilitated an increasing sense that tribalism is the order of the day, so how did we reach this point?

Data collected by Ipsos Mori and interpreted by The Migration Observatory can provide us with some insight into the way the nation's opinion has been shaped. In 1994, a survey returned a result showing that just 2% of the public thought immigration was politically relevant. That same survey, conducted in 2015 showed that this figure had increased to 56%. Curiously, for those that maintain that the Brexit referendum was about more than immigration, that figure begins to fall again immediately afterwards. It is then replaced by a rise in the importance of the EU as a political topic, and given the subject, you have to wonder why this wasn't deemed important until a choice had been made.

It could be argued that there is something in the collective subconscious of the British public; some hunger to return to the days where Britannia ruled land and sea. Yet, those who seem to long for the days of a Britain forging its own destiny seem to be forgetting something.

We are not what we once were.

The UK's prosperity was achieved and maintained through conquest over hundreds of years. It relied upon the scope of the Empire for both economic success and its political position.  Without the devastating financial impact of the Second World War, it is possible that the Empire would have still been a place where the sun never set.

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The post-war government of Clement Atlee began a process of returning independence to Britain's colonies with the Partition of India. While decolonisation was the correct moral course, its beginnings, compounded with the subsequent Suez crisis, witnessed the economic and political decline of Britain on the global stage.

This was corrected largely by the UK developing a close relationship with the United States and its eventual entry into the EEC. Now that we have left the EU, do we risk a return to that faltering status?

Our "special relationship" with the US is less secure than it once was. Yet, it is not weak enough to lose the influence that their connection gives us. Economically, things will likely be more difficult. The EU aren't imposing any tariffs on goods at present – but that's dependent upon us matching their standards. Should we slip away from their dictates, we could find ourselves suffering additional economic strain.

Issues are already starting to develop with the withdrawal agreement in relation to Northern Ireland. The latest actions by Westminster have brought threats of legal action from EU, furthering fears of delays on the current trade and cooperation agreements. Despite Lord Frost and the Prime Minister attempting to downplay the situation, no amount of wishing is going to change the reality. The EU will fight to protect itself.

So, what have we gained?

Our fishing waters still contain French vessels and in retrospect, an industry that makes up 0.1% of our economy seems like a strange hill to die on. The NHS finds itself contending with a vicious pandemic, while facing potential issues such as the pricing and supply of medicines. The growing skills gap in the UK also means we still require economic migrants to cover working positions.

Prior to Covid-19, the scenario might have been different. With a cleaner political slate, we may have been further along than we are at present. The pandemic has inevitably caused a rethink in the Government's approach to taxation. This is to such a point where we find a Conservative government pushing for higher corporation tax, while a Labour leader urges caution.

While the UK is still part of the Commonwealth, the import and export this provides pales in comparison to the trade between the UK and the EU. It also bars access to prearranged agreements that come as being part of that bloc.

One thing is certain, the divorce is finalised and there doesn't seem to be much chance of reconciliation. What remains to be seen is whether the UK can truly go it alone, or if we'll be seeking a new family of nations before long.

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