The combination of Boris Johnson, Covid and Brexit is creating a constitutional crash that is waiting to happen in 2021
The Covid year has intensified potentially terminal strains within the UK’s four-nation union. When Boris Johnson began to grapple with the seriousness of the outbreak, the impact on the union was probably low on his list of concerns. But, as 2021 beckons, Mr Johnson’s approach to Covid has become a catalyst of the possible breakup of the United Kingdom. Covid’s most lasting political legacy in these islands may be that, in its aftermath, the UK will no longer exist.
When the pandemic began, Mr Johnson seemed to assume that he was acting for the whole of the UK. He gradually discovered that, as far as Covid was concerned, this was untrue. In practice, he was the prime minister only of England. Health policy had been devolved since 1919 in Scotland, and has been under the control of devolved administrations in Scotland, Wales and Northern Ireland since Tony Blair’s era. And since all three devolved nations and most English cities were led by non-Conservative politicians with their own views of how to deal with Covid in their areas, and with no love for Mr Johnson’s politics in most cases, coronavirus decision-making has struggled to reach a consensus, to the general detriment.