For a long time the agreement was seriously unbalanced – to the extent that the UK was paying us almost £4 million a year for services which were costing us no more than £300,000. Quite clearly, an arrangement which worked well and
equitably when huge numbers of visitors from the other side of the Channel came here had run its useful course.
There is, however, more to this issue than at first meets the eye. To begin with, it is part of a disturbing pattern of behaviour which, for a number of years, has seen the UK adopting a cavalier attitude to consultation before taking decisions which affect the Island. Other examples of this tendency would be the unilateral imposition of the Edwards Review of offshore jurisdictions, the three-year delay in ratifying the 1998 finance bill – an impasse broken only by the threat of court action – and commitment to the EU tax package on our behalf.
That said, the reciprocal health agreement is anything but the firmest ground from which to launch an assault on the UK’s recently high-handed dealings with the Crown Dependencies. It is true that a UK MP, Andrew Mackinlay, has said that we should have fought our corner with more determination, but that, and the way in which previous Health Ministers handled the matter, must be regarded as water under the bridge.
The point now is not what ought to have happened, but what can in the future be made to happen. Fortunately, this appears to be exactly how the present Health Minister, Anne Pryke, sees the
situation. She has made it clear that she intends to see a deal reinstated, but with an important caveat. She understands that the situation has changed completely since the heyday of the original deal and that completely new arrangements will have to be thrashed out.
Ideally, the UK authorities will welcome this approach and understand that a mutually acceptable agreement can be negotiated which would meet the needs not only of Islanders, but also of UK residents visiting our shores.
If, on the other hand, the present UK government – or the next – shows no interest in reaching a sensible compromise, we shall have further evidence of increasing pressure on a constitutional relationship which, because of its 800-year history, we take too much for granted.