ONE of England’s leading political academics, who is also a former Labour minister, John Denham, has said that England is at the centre of tensions within the Union.

Denham, 67, is the director of the Centre for English Identity and Politics at Southampton University. A Labour MP for 23 years, he was a Cabinet minister under former prime minister Gordon Brown, before stepping down at the 2015 election.

In a new academic report, entitled Brexit and Beyond, Denham argues that the politics of England and the Union have transformed.

Produced by the UK in a Changing Europe think tank, the report contains the views of 45 leading international academics on a myriad of Brexit-related subjects including the future of the Union.

Denham wrote: “English policy and law remain a Union responsibility yet no defined machinery of English Government has developed. A limited Commons procedure for ‘English Votes for English Laws’ (EVEL), introduced after the Scottish referendum, has not given England the ‘voice’ promised by David Cameron nor a legislative programme.

“England remains the most centralised nation in Europe.

“As the prime source of both Brexit and an Anglo-centric British Unionism, England is at the centre of tensions within the Union. The Conservative government is pursuing an assertive Unionism but it is not clear how successful this will be. The centralisation of powers returning from Brussels, and Whitehall control of the shared Prosperity Fund replacing previously devolved investment funds is provoking resentment in the devolved administrations.

“Keir Starmer’s move to establish a UK wide constitutional commission, and his earlier if ill-defined advocacy of a federal Union of nations and regions reflects the view of other Unionists that relations within the Union need to be reset.

“Nonetheless, the politics of England and the Union have been transformed. Voters identifying as ‘more English than British’ provided much of the UKIP support that led to the promise of an EU referendum and were the decisive Leave votes (other identity groups splitting equally or for Remain).

Denham says that Boris Johnson’s English majority in the 2019 “Get Brexit Done” election was largely amongst the same voters: “In a Union in which different parties now contest and win each nation, England’s politics are now distinct.”

He adds: “The electorate is fragmented, and with the major parties poorly aligned with voters’ values, English politics are likely to remain unstable and unpredictable.

“If a General Election produced a UK majority government or coalition without an English majority, the clash with EVEL would raise questions of legitimacy that would provoke a wider constitutional debate.

“In such debate, an English desire for a national governance that is more democratic but also decentralised may come to the fore, while the rest of the Union will want English politicians’ claims to act as the Union constrained.”