By Kirsty Hughes

A RESURGENT Tory Government now presides over a UK whose politics look battered, fragmented and not fit for purpose. And, while the four constituent parts of the UK voted in very different ways last Thursday, for all of them there is no longer a status quo option.

Brexit is finally going ahead; the UK will leave the European Union on January 31, 2020. Northern Ireland is set for a different, closer relationship with the EU than the rest of the UK and, despite bluster from Boris Johnson, there will be a customs and regulatory border in the Irish Sea.

There will too, post-transition, be new friction at Britain’s borders with the EU. Outside the customs union and single market, there cannot be an open, frictionless UK-EU border. And if Scotland chooses independence in the EU in the coming years, the external border of the EU will then lie between England and Scotland – one big issue needing much more debate.

Yet Scotland too has no status quo to settle within – staying in the UK and in the EU is not an option. Indeed, independence is the only obvious route to staying in or, more likely, rejoining the EU.

Meanwhile in Wales, despite voting Leave in 2016, last Thursday pro-Remain or pro-referendum parties got around 58 per cent of the result (similar in Northern Ireland, almost 75 per cent in Scotland). Even in England, the only one of the UK’s four nations where the Tories came first in vote share, support for Leave versus Remain/referendum parties was neck and neck.

Other divisions abound. But the demographic divides are one of the most striking. According to Lord Ashcroft’s post-election poll, Labour beat the Tories in all the under-45 year old voting groups. Labour got more than 50 per cent of the vote in the 18-24 group while the Tories got an absolute majority (almost two-thirds) in the over-65 group. The idea, promoted by many Corbynistas, that Labour would have done better to fish with the Tories in the Leave half of the UK’s population looks bizarre indeed.

And though both the election results and polls for the last two years suggest a small Remain majority across the UK, Brexit will now happen. The debate is over but the divide remains.

We know too in Scotland that young people are both the most pro-EU and the most pro-independence. And polls, in the last year, have found majorities for independence if Brexit happens. New polls in the coming weeks will be closely watched to see if that shift on the independence question now does show up. If it does, that will add fuel to the Scottish Government’s current demand for a second independence referendum.

But in the weeks, months and years ahead, Britain (but not Northern Ireland) now faces a Tory hard Brexit, driven by the combined forces of a populist Tory majority in England, by an English and Welsh Leave vote in 2016, and by an English identity crisis. Yet England, like the UK, will remain bitterly divided too, with fragmentation likely only to increase in the years ahead.

A Tory Brexit led by Boris Johnson has no chance of healing such a UK. Divisions over the EU, deep differences between young and old, profound changes in the Britain-Northern Ireland relationship, and more deep divisions between England and Wales, and between England and Scotland, are a recipe for an unsettled, unstable politics ahead. The UK will leave the EU. But its own future path is shrouded in uncertainty.

Kirsty Hughes is Director of the Scottish Centre on European Relations