Speaking at an international law-drafting conference last week, the former Bailiff and External Relations Minister warned that, while he remained ‘broadly speaking optimistic about the future’, any difficulties that arose from Brexit for Jersey would be likely to come from the UK, not the EU. ‘It is with the UK that difficulties are more likely to arise,’ he said.
But he added that the ‘fear that the Crown Dependencies might become a bargaining chip if negotiations between the UK and the EU became difficult’ was, while ‘not impossible’, an unlikely outcome compared to what he went on to describe as a more ‘insidious’ scenario.
‘The potential difficulties are more insidious, and go to the long-standing constitutional relationships between the CDs and the UK.
‘I am passionately attached to the autonomy that we enjoy, and I am far from alone in that view. The potential dangers come from a closer “entanglement” with the UK resulting from Brexit, and the frustrations that must be felt in the UK at having to accommodate the different and sometimes conflicting interests not just of the CDs and OTs but of the devolved nations as well, while all the time seeking an agreement with the EU27, the Commission and the European Parliament. The tensions are immense, and they can only get worse.’
Sir Philip’s comments came at the end of a week that saw UK Prime Minister Theresa May’s Chequers plan rejected by EU leaders at a summit in Salzburg. It was also a week that saw Jersey’s External Relations Minister Ian Gorst reassure an audience at an Institute of Directors debate that Brexit has actually improved the Island’s relations with the UK.
‘We have better relations with the UK than we’ve had prior to Brexit,’ Senator Gorst said. ‘They are absolutely aware of our constitutional position and they don’t want to do anything to impact that.’
However, Sir Philip reminded delegates at the Commonwealth Association of Legislative Counsel conference at the Pomme d’Or Hotel that UK Ministers had already made promises that ‘have not been kept’ with regard to providing Jersey with entrustment to conclude bilateral investment treaty negotiations that are ‘fundamental to Jersey’s Brexit strategy’.
He also pointed out that the Sanctions and Anti-Money-Laundering Act 2018 empowering the UK Secretary of State to legislate for the Overseas Territories had been imposed on the Cayman Islands, for example, ‘in breach of an express undertaking to the Cayman Islands not to use the constitutional power to interfere in Cayman’s internal affairs’.
He added that, even though the scope of the Act was not extended to include Jersey in the end, it should nonetheless prompt the Island to be vigilant.
‘These events underline the fragile state of relations with some OTs resulting from Brexit,’ he said. ‘Parliament seems to have acknowledged the absence of a constitutional power to legislate for the Crown Dependencies on a domestic matter. But to listen to some members of the Shadow Cabinet, constitutional constraints in relation to the CDs do not seem to count for much.
‘Of course it is easy to say things in opposition which in government evaporate in the face of the law. For my part, I am not too concerned by such extravagant statements. But they do underline the necessity for being prepared for constitutional assaults.’