One of the biggest non-economic fears of the UK leaving the EU is that such an action will tear the UK apart, with Scotland and Northern Ireland demanding independence so that they can remain part of the EU.
There is a proven mechanism by which it would be possible for England and Wales to leave the EU, but Scotland and Ireland could remain in the EU, and still be part of the UK. To understand this, we need to look at Greenland, the Isle of Man, and the Channel Isles.
Greenland is an autonomous territory within the Kingdom of Denmark. Between 1973 (when Denmark, like the UK, joined the EU) and 1985, Greenland was part of the EU. When Denmark first joined the EU, Greenland had no autonomy from Denmark; that was granted in 1979. But in 1982, it held a referendum on EU membership in which 53% voted in favour of leaving the EU, a figure which may seem strikingly familiar to those who track referendums of this kind.
Through the Greenland Treaty, Greenland left direct membership of the EU in 1985, since when it has been one of the Overseas Countries and Territories (OCT) of the EU, as a result of its continuing political union with Denmark. This provides for some integration with the Internal Market, and Greenland even receives aid from the EU in return for fishing rights.
The Isle of Man, Jersey, Guernsey, and the smaller Channel Isles are possessions of the British Crown with their own independent administrations, and as part of the UK’s accession to the EU remained outside, covered by protocols to the UK’s treaty of accession.
So here’s the plan:
First, the UK Parliament at Westminster moves to Edinburgh, placing the UK government in Scotland. Then the UK undergoes constitutional change to make Scotland the ‘parent’ of the UK, with England and Wales (and possibly Northern Ireland) as its autonomous dependencies. This will require some minor adjustments to membership of the EU, such as changing the name and address to be used for correspondence.
Then, if England and Wales still really do want to leave the EU, they will be free to pursue a Greenland or similar treaty solution, which would not affect the UK’s membership, leaving Scotland and Northern Ireland to remain in the EU as they wish.
This may seem – and be – fairly crazy, and will hopefully have brought a smile to an otherwise depressing subject. But is it more crazy than any other feasible solution?