Boris Johnson’s Brexit Gamble Ferments a Brewing Scottish Rebellion

British Prime Minister Boris Johnson is feuding with Europe over Brexit and facing a growing backlash from within his own party. There’s also a rebellion over the U.K.’s future that only looks set to get worse.

Scotland opposes the Internal Market Bill that’s due to be published on Wednesday and has led to the latest acrimony with the European Union. Johnson’s government has said the legislation will ensure there are no barriers to trade between different parts of the U.K. The administration in Edinburgh says it encroaches on powers already ceded to Scotland.

The bill is a “a full frontal assault on devolution,” Scottish leader Nicola Sturgeon wrote on Twitter on Wednesday. “This U.K. government is the most reckless and unprincipled in my lifetime.”

Johnson’s immediate challenge is to rescue Brexit trade talks after his government caused consternation in Brussels by acknowledging the draft bill would break international law by overriding parts of an accord with the EU. But the latest developments also could have existential implications for the U.K. that go beyond any relationship with Europe.

Scotland last week reaffirmed its intention to forceanother referendum on independence after lambasting the British government’s stance. Support for breaking away from England has gained popular support during the coronavirus pandemic and Sturgeon said last week she planned to introduce legislation in coming months for a vote.

While the U.K. has refused to sanction a referendum, her pro-independence Scottish National Partylooks set for another landslide in elections to the Scottish Parliament in May and that would heap pressure on Johnson.

In the meantime, the SNP-dominated Scottish Parliament won’t approve the proposed Internal Market Bill as is required under a convention. The government in Edinburgh fears the legislation will be forced through nonetheless, said Michael Russell, Scotland’s constitution secretary. That’s what happened with the Brexit legislation that took the U.K. out of the EU.

“This is not a genuine partnership of equals and we couldn’t recommend consent to a bill that undermines devolution and the Scottish Parliament, and which, by the U.K. government’s own admission, is going to break international law,” Russell said on Tuesday.

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