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Independence ‘may be only option if Brexit deal is bad’

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INDEPENDENCE may be the only option left for Jersey if Brexit unfolds unfavourably for the Island, according to Sir Philip Bailhache.

The former External Relations Minister said that although Jersey was not faced with that decision right now, as the new relationship between the UK and Europe develops the Island might find its interests sidelined.

‘From Jersey’s perspective, I think one of the dangers is that we will find that the political tempo changes and becomes much faster in the UK and that the government in Jersey will be asked to make important decisions without being given the time to reflect on them and to consider what is the best solution for the Island,’ Sir Philip said.

‘I think, to be pragmatic, we have to acknowledge that we are a small nation of 100,000 people and our interests when set against the interests of 60 million people in the UK, are not going to look terribly large.

‘So that leads on to the question of how do we protect ourselves?

‘I have argued for a good many years that at the end of the day, the Island should be prepared to go it alone and to become an independent state.

‘We are a long way from that at the present time. But it is important to keep that in the background, because ultimately, it is the only protection that we have in order to preserve the Island’s economy and autonomy.’

Sir Philip’s comments come after the Irish prime minister Leo Varadkar yesterday warned that a Brexit no deal was likely.

Speaking during a press conference at the British-Irish Council summit in Guernsey, Mr Varadkar said: ‘Ultimately, it’s in the interests of Ireland; in the interests of the United Kingdom; in the interests of the European Union that we have an orderly Brexit and a new relationship that works for everyone.

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‘So, that’s what we are going to try and do over the next couple of months.’

Guernsey’s Chief Minister Gavin St Pier said that the island had to prepare for the possibility of no deal.

Sir Philip’s Brexit team has worked with the UK government since the Brexit vote – two years ago today – to protect the Island’s interests.

‘There is not an independence plan,’ he said. ‘But a lot of thinking has taken place about how we would respond to different eventualities and we have laid out very clearly to the UK government what our aspirations are in terms of Customs arrangements, immigration and so forth.’

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Sir Philip said speculation is not particularly useful, but independence could be the only option if the autonomy Jersey has enjoyed as a Crown Dependency since 1204, when its constitutional relationship with the UK began, is threatened.

‘Pressures could come from two directions,’ he said. ‘Pressure could come from the European Union because the EU might say to the United Kingdom, “your Crown Dependencies are a nuisance to us and we want you to take control of them if you are going to have an economic arrangement with us which you want”.

‘We have been assured that in such circumstances, the United Kingdom would protect us. But, one has to be pragmatic. And there are different shades of situation which could arise.

‘And of course the pressure might come from the United Kingdom itself. The UK is going through a period of fundamental constitutional change and whereas the constitutional arrangement has been by and large respected in the past, that might change, particularly if there might be a government that is hostile to the Channel Islands.

‘So we need to be prepared.’

Tania Targett

By Tania Targett
Journalist

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