“Sovereignty-Lite” A model for a new British Isles and United Kingdom, and possibly the Republic of Ireland
Introduction: Sovereignty is flexible.
Sovereignty can be a blurred boundary. At what point is a nation sovereign and can creative solutions be found? Is membership of the EU the end of sovereignty and does being in the UK mean a nation cannot also be sovereign? Some sovereign states pool sovereignty, some states are unarmed, some do not have their own currency or national bank, and some non-sovereign nations have many trappings of independence. This work is intended as a blueprint for a future United Kingdom and Ireland that satisfies the aspirations of all its peoples.
The Alternatives to the BISM
The status quo post-Brexit is not an option now. Therefore, changes will need to be made to our relationships with the Republic of Ireland the EEA/E. In the event that the UK abandons Free Movement of People, the ROI’s border with Northern Ireland will become a hard border and one of our biggest trade partners will be subject to some tariffs and burdensome import export paperwork. The Good Friday agreement will be under immense pressure.
With regards to the already fractious and dysfunctional governance of the United Kingdom there will be resentment in Scotland at being taken out of the EEA/EU without its consent (assuming we do not retain access to the Single Market and Free Movement.) If Scotland gets to stop the rest of the UK getting a deal that suits it, there will be further pressure.
The movement towards Scottish independence is slowly, but in my opinion inexorably, building. In 2014 45% voted for independence. It is safe to assume that little has improved to woo away those voters for the most part. However there have been changes in circumstances since the 2014 referendum that could ensure a 10% swing in the 55% who chose to remain.
- In 2014 there was a coalition; in 2016 a very right-wing all out Tory government
- In 2014 many Scottish voters were worried that leaving the UK would mean leaving the EU
- Since 2016 a precedent for radical change has been set, the emotional mould broken
- Nicola Sturgeon has a popular appeal and has demonstrated international statesmanship
- There is resentment at the EU referendum result and a demonstration of Scottish impotence
- In the general election, the SNP with its pro-independence stance became practical the only party to represent Scotland in Westminster.
The UK should fear Scottish independence. It will reduce the UK’s standing, it will narrow its market, it will reduce its landmass and create a second hard-border post-Brexit.
“The Sovereignty-lite Option”
Before the 2014 Indy-ref a proposal for Devo-Max was floated. It gave Scotland the option of a much larger degree of autonomy but it started from the position that Scotland would remain a non-sovereign state. This option is creatively different, and yet need not be threatening to anyone. The premise is that each nation of the United Kingdom, and for this argument an invitation would be extended to the Republic of Ireland, would be sovereign if they wished, or not sovereign if they did not wish.
- Single Market: The starting point would be common membership of a British Isles Single Market, with a British Isles Central Bank. The British Isles Single Market (BISM) would operate in a similar way to the EU’s single market. Members would contribute to it, and draw from it. Free trade and free movement would function throughout. All decisions would be reached jointly. Ireland could choose to have access to this.
- Citizenship: There would be a concept of dual citizenship, similar to the concept of European citizenship post-Maastricht style and virtually identical to the 100-year old Common Travel Area which we have with the ROI. Currently Irish and UK citizens can vote and reside in each other’s countries. This would continue and be extended to Scotland and Ireland, formally or informally, if wished, and continue for Wales and NI. In this way citizens of the BISM could be Irish citizens, UK citizens, or Scottish citizens, but with virtually full rights, as the situation is at present. This British Isles Single Market Citizenship would be a virtual concept but could be reflected in passport design.
- What we could share:
There is no reason not to keep many elements of the UK functioning in a similar way as now. This could involve keeping:
- A shared army if wished. If preferred the nations could opt out. ROI has its own army and remains within the EU. Some countries in the EU are proposing a joint army.
- A shared currency. The ROI could adopt Sterling or maintain the Euro and have trading access to the BISM but not benefit from its Central Bank or need to pay into it.
- A common border agency. As an island, rigorous passport checks can be shared by a joint agency. This approach can function in other situations and is seen in practice at Eurostar terminals and possibly at Gibraltar airport. It is the current practice in the Common Travel Area, with ROI officials imposing the same rigour and controls as their UKBA counterparts. If one of the sovereign states, for instance Scotland or the ROI wished to allow Freedom of Movement with the EU but the rest of the BISM did not wish Freedom of Movement with the EU, then migrants from the EU could reside in Scotland or Eire after having crossed the jointly policed BISM border. However, the migrant would not be permitted to take up employment in the rest of the BISM for a mutually determined period.
- A common arrest area and police work (as at present)
- A common approach to trading standards (via a revamped House of Commons)
- Agreed and tightly enforced budget deficits, in the same way as Eurozone countries function.
- Fishing, oil, territorial waters if wished
- The Royal Family
- Sovereignty of Gibraltar
- What we could do alone:
Currently Scotland deals with a great deal of its own policy. Given full control over taxation and finance, with certain elements shared with the BISM, Scotland could follow a different course in terms of social policy. Ireland would, if it chose to affiliate itself, continue as present within the EU.
- Foreign policy; this could be a way for Scotland to retain some links with the EU, for instance with access to the EEA it wished. (Full EU membership might be incompatible with BISM membership due to EU instance on the Euro and Schengen. Scotland and if participating ROI would have their own seats at the UN.
- Income tax and finances, subject to common standards compatible with BISM
- Defence if wished or together if wished
- How it would be governed:
- The House of Commons could continue with MPs from the sovereign nations not being present as and when appropriate and a clear definition of the existing English, Welsh and NI parliaments
- Agencies would be established for policing, internal security, joint defence (if wished), a central bank
- Scotland’s parliament would become a national parliament
- Irish participation could be governmental level.