Jersey, Guernsey and the Isle of Man could be used by the United Kingdom as “a bargaining chip” in the Brexit negotiations and there is “precious little” that they could do about it, an expert in constitutional and European Union law has warned.
Richard Gordon QC, of legal firm Brick Court Chambers, told local press in Jersey that he beloved that Crown Dependencies’ constitutional relationship with the UK is “held together by string”.
Gordon, who was speaking in a panel discussion during a conference organised by the Jersey branch of ICSA the Governance Institute, told local reporters that if the 27 EU member states started to exert pressure, then the UK could be forced to “make use of the Crown Dependencies as a lever”.
The Jersey Evening Post reported that Gordon – who recently co-published a paper on the legislative process of preparing for Brexit – believes that there is a conflict of interest between the UK and Jersey on Brexit matters.
“When the UK goes into negotiations with the 27 other states, they will not be thinking of Jersey, or Gibraltar, or Scotland. They will want to say to the UK electorate, look what we have got,” he said.
‘Frission of terror’
Recent tensions in Gibraltar, as another Overseas Territory of the UK, should send a “frisson of terror” to Jersey parliamentarians, in terms of it’s position within the UK.
In constitutional terms, Gordon pointed, Jersey was not part of the UK, had not been able to vote in the Brexit referendum and the UK Parliament had no jurisdiction over the Island.
“Jersey has no status, so what good are the Prime Minister’s assurances?,” he said. “‘What interest has the UK got in protecting Jersey’s best interests?”
Fellow panel member, Mike Jones, director of policy at the Jersey Financial Services Commission, countered Gordon’s concerns, stating that although Brexit was affecting all decisions relating to market access, the outcome could provide better access to the UK and international markets in the longer term.
Jones added that Jersey authorities “were in fact providing the UK government with practical help, in that the Island had experience of being a ‘third country’”.
Thomas Cowsill, head of technical at Jersey Finance, was also on the panel. He said that Jersey already provided services to countries outside of the EU, particularly in the Middle East and Asia.
“The government of Jersey is not asking the UK for much, just the status quo on trade in goods,” said Cowsill. “Personally I can’t see any conflicts of interest.”
Gordon replied that although he was not saying there were grounds for pessimism, if conflicts did arise then there was “precious little” that Jersey could do about it.
“The UK’s relationship with Jersey is held together by string,” said Gordon. “There are no constitutional documents stating what part each plays, unlike Scotland, which has good framework agreements.
“I think it might work quite well in reality, but if the 27 member states want to exert pressure, they might use the Crown Dependencies as a lever,” he said.