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The Disunited Kingdom

EDINBURGH – Today, the United Kingdom is united in name only. With different regions and industries desperately trying to opt out of a “hard Brexit” from the European Union, and Scotland even considering independence, whatever ties bind the UK together are being severely strained.

This is no temporary or passing phenomenon. The vote to leave the European Union was fueled by deep-seated public anger about the huge structural inequalities between the UK’s north and the south – inequalities that, as UK Chancellor of the Exchequer Philip Hammond acknowledged this week, are the worst in Europe. Yet Brexit will only exacerbate Britain’s regional divide: as the more export-dependent north loses jobs faster than the south, post-referendum optimism will be cut short.

Since 2010, the northeast has comprised 4% of the UK population, contributed just 3% of the country’s gross value added (GVA), and accounted for only 2% of the economy’s new jobs. Those figures are 11%, 9%, and 7%, respectively, in the northwest; and 8%, 6.5%, and 6%, respectively, in Yorkshire and Humberside. By contrast, London and the southeast have accounted for 26.8% of population, 37.7% of GVA, and 39% of new jobs. In fact, since 2010, half of all new jobs were created in London, the southeast, and the east.

A 2016 study by University of Groningen economist Philip McCann found that the UK’s regional income gaps rival the worst in Europe. Average disposable household income in the Greater London area is 60% higher than in most other regions of England, Wales, and Northern Ireland.