England, Secede!

Glen Newey

One way round the legal problems posed by Brexit might be to mould it on the EU’s current relationship with the Channel Islands and Isle of Man. I grew up in, or on, Jersey (more on the preposition soon). It’s an odd place, for which the term ‘insular’, if anything, understates its inverted-telescope worldview. Jersey people can tell if someone comes from elsewhere in Britain in two ways. One is that they say ‘on’ rather than ‘in’ Jersey, which irks locals because it suggests, accurately enough, that the place is a windblasted reef jutting from the surf. The other is that they refer to Britain as ‘the mainland’ – because, for Jersey people, the mainland is Jersey. This helps make Jersey a microcosm of the attitudes that ‘Fog in Channel: Continent Isolated’ Englanders hold towards Albion, and a propitious model for its constitutional future.

Like Guernsey and the Isle of Man, Jersey is a Crown Dependency. It’s not fully part of the EU and didn’t get to vote in the referendum. By Protocol 3 of the 1972 Treaty of Accession to what’s now the European Union, these territories get something close to having their cake and eating it. Under its first article, customs duties are harmonised with the EU. Jersey doesn’t formally belong to the European Economic Area either. It has free movement of goods but not of persons, except within the ‘Common Travel Area’ comprised by the UK and Eire, nor the other ‘four freedoms’ enumerated by the Union (whether or not the Brexit talks could blag a similarly advantageous deal is, of course, another matter).

Still, this suggests a way of undoing the constitutional knot tied by Brexit. Before and since the vote there has been much talk about a second referendum in Scotland, as it voted emphatically for Remain. The Crown Dependency model suggests an inverse solution: for England (and maybe Wales) to secede from the United Kingdom by becoming the equivalent of a Crown Dependency, the point being that such territories, as the government puts it, ‘are not part of the UK but are self-governing dependencies of the Crown’. As England isn’t a member state of the EU, it couldn’t trigger Article 50 of the Lisbon Treaty to initiate withdrawal. But perhaps it wouldn’t need to. Once its Overseas Countries and Territories and Outermost Regions are factored in, the EU comprises a sprawling transcontinental empire on which the sun never sets; this allows for various sorts of de-VATed, VAT-lite and Schengenless gradations of membership. One precedent for withdrawal is another non-state entity, Greenland, which quit in 1982 after a 52/48 per cent vote (though without seceding from Denmark). By contrast, Algeria left the European Communities in 1962 after independence from France, of which it was a province rather than a colony.

If England seceded from the UK, several problems would be dodged. Scotland would dominate rump UK, and its urge to secede would be the weaker, as its wish to stay in the EU would be granted by simply not triggering Article 50. There would be no need to re-create the border between Northern Ireland and Eire, whose practical erasure is central to the Belfast Agreement (in a surreal moment last week, David Davis, the new Brexit minister, implied that the UK shared an ‘internal border’ with Eire). Unlike in the usual Brexit scenarios, there would then be an EU/non-EU frontier not in the sensitive Irish border region, but between England and Scotland (and maybe Wales). Crossing from one to the other would be no more traumatic than travel is now between the UK and the dependencies.

Among other benefits, the Crown Dependencies don’t have to pay into the CAP. Quasi-secession from the UK would also gratify English nationalists, who’d have the substance of self-government (the Isle of Man, Jersey and Guernsey each has its own nano-parliament). The queen could go on being sovereign in England, as she is over these other bits. It might be anomalous for the UK parliament to be based in part of the country that no longer belonged to it, but it could always be moved to Holyrood, Cardiff or wherever.

The urge to imperium begins at home. Becoming a Crown Dependency as a way to leave the EU, and turning into an adjunct of a Celt-led rump UK, would no doubt affront English amour-propre. And that’s among the least of the benefits.


  • 27 July 2016 at 1:23pm
    Locus says:
    People in Ireland really hate it when people from Britain (or Jersey, I guess) use the term "Eire." They think it sounds outdated, inaccurate and condescending, just as much so as David Davis talking about "internal borders."

    • 29 July 2016 at 6:49pm
      bikethru says: @ Locus
      Not everyone in Ireland really hates it, or just hates it, or even cares much. It’s a hoot that we put “Eire” on our stamps and passports then get shirty if a Brit dares to use the name.

    • 9 August 2016 at 4:19pm
      michaelheaslip says: @ bikethru
      And German stamps have "Deutschland". But what would be inferred from the use of "Deutschland" when writing in English?

    • 9 August 2016 at 6:33pm
      John Cowan says: @ michaelheaslip
      What would be inferred, you ask? "Ignorance, madam, sheer ignorance," as Dr. Johnson said on a famous occasion.

    • 9 August 2016 at 7:25pm
      Tanvyeboyo says: @ bikethru
      I dislike it extremely when 'Eire' is taken to mean just the part of Ireland administered as the Republic of Ireland. Éire is simply Ireland in Gaelic. No more, no less. Our country is called Ireland, or, once again, Éire in the first national language of the country. Our passports say Éire / Ireland - An tAontas Eorpach / European Union. Names matter in this part of the world. Our dear neighbours are a complex lot. England + Wales = Britain + Scotland = Great Britain + Northern Ireland = United Kingdom of Great Britain and Northern Ireland, as, I believe, appears on their passport. I hope I got that right and I won't get started on Crown Dependencies, British Ovrseas Territories and the Commponwealth Realm, none of which applies to Ireland. See here for beginners:
      Ireland is a republic. I don't really mind if the neigbours refer to the 26 counties as the Republic of Ireland but I do mind if they call the 26 counties 'Eire', or now more rarely, refer to Gaelic as 'erse'. The latter may be a Scottish Gaelic word, if so why not, but it makes no sense in English.
      I really dislike it when, for instance, the dim French media refer to the UK as l'Angleterre. But David Davis and his 'internal borders( (M25?) is unforgivable. Still, the important thing is that we all get on. United at least by one language and, no!, that does not include you Americans!

    • 9 August 2016 at 9:36pm
      haroldsdodge says: @ Tanvyeboyo
      Dislike away. Referring to the Republic of Ireland as "Eire" is perfectly legitimate. It's exactly the same as football commentators referring to the team who beat Italy at Euro 2016 as "Ireland", which they do at least 90pc of the time. How many posts did you write about that particular abuse of language? Yeah, that's what I thought.

      I'm also interested in the internal logic of your answer. You note, correctly, that Irish passports say Eire. But who is it that you think issues those passports? Perhaps you thought they grew out of the soil, in which case I'm sorry to be the one who shatters that illusion because, well, they don't. Nor are they mystically conjured up by the Celtic Twilight, or by channeling a WB Yeats poem (or a Wolfe Tones song for that matter). So where do they come from? Who pays the employees who produce them? Who pays the translators who produce the Gaelic that appears in those passports? Who issues the stamps (which, as someone notes above, also say "Eire" on them) that are stuck to the envelopes used for sending and returning passport forms? Above all, who pays (and perhaps more to the point who does not pay) the taxes that fund all this passport-production? I think you'll find that the answer to all of those questions is The Republic of Ireland (and the taxpayers thereof). I think you'll also find that what you call "Ireland", by which you presumably mean the island and its smaller surrounding islands, contributes not one cent towards the Eire-entitled passports to which you refer. But then, that's the thing about islands and indeed other geographic features (rivers, mountains etc) - they tend not to get involved in passport-production, or indeed hospital-building, education-providing, road-repairing or any of the other messy affairs of people. That tends to be left to governments. As you say, names matter, so I suggest you name things correctly. And the government that issues the passports you refer to (including, I suspect, yours) is the government of the Republic of Ireland.

    • 12 August 2016 at 2:15pm
      Lisl says: @ Tanvyeboyo
      "United at least by one language and, no!, that does not include you Americans!"

      Pity that, eh? For too many of my fellows words tumble out like the Sedaris book title, "Me Talk Pretty One Day", but with no actual impetus to get there.

  • 27 July 2016 at 3:00pm
    James Alexander says:
    Another liberating possibility. The City could step free of the closet and conduct its tax haven and money laundering services in comfort, under new, relaxed, English non-regulation, free from the threat of future EU regulatory interference, free from the need for pretences and denials. Show Frankfurt and Paris a clean pair of heels.

  • 27 July 2016 at 3:24pm
    Charles Turner says:
    The arguments for brexit were dominated by the alleged need to control immigration. Wouldn't there have to be a serious physical border - a fence - between Scotland and England? Even if a rump UK dominated by Scotland did not join the Schengen zone, free movement within the EU would mean that anyone with an EU passport and wanting to come to England would be able to by entering Scotland and crossing the non-traumatic border. They might not be able to live or work here legally, but there are numerous ways in which people get over that hurdle once here.

  • 8 August 2016 at 12:04pm
    Nfranklin says:
    One of the charms of this idea would be that it will require a referendum on the issue of leaving the UK and the people of England would have the possibility of second thoughts on Brexit.

  • 10 August 2016 at 9:38am
    Diplodoctus says:
    An inspired proposal in tune with history: one reason Jersey is a Crown Dependency and not an Overseas Territory is that they colonised us, not the other way round.

  • 6 September 2016 at 6:00pm
    tm cross says:
    Add England to the Isle of Man & Gibraltar Crown Dependencies then link them with the Overseas Territories of Bermuda, Cayman Isls & The BVI & we have 2/5 of the entire Global Wealth hiding, tax-free???

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