One potential option raised for a post-Brexit UK has been membership of the European Economic Area (EEA).
It allows a number of European countries to be part of the EU’s single market without being members of the EU.
As with this whole debate, there are arguments for and against being a member of the EEA, let alone the EU.
But a UK minister has now suggested that the UK being part of the EEA may not necessarily be plain sailing.
“If the UK left the EU and sought to retain its membership of the EEA, as the UK would be changing its relationship with the EEA, the EEA Agreement would need to be modified,” said business minister Anna Soubry, in a written parliamentary answer.
“This would require the unanimous agreement of all EEA members.”
What’s this got to with Iceland… And Liechtenstein for that matter?
As the UK government website says: “The EEA includes EU countries and also Iceland, Liechtenstein and Norway. It allows them to be part of the EU’s single market.”
And that’s where Iceland comes into this as yet theoretical post-Brexit world.
But interestingly, the same section of the UK government website opens up another potential option for a Brexit Britain.
“Switzerland is neither an EU nor EEA member but is part of the single market – this means Swiss nationals have the same rights to live and work in the UK as other EEA nationals,” it says.
The cost of UK elections to the European parliament has been put at the tens of millions pounds.
The issue has been raised in the House of Lords by Liberal Democrat peer Lord Rennard, who asked the government what was the total cost of conducting the 2014 European Parliament elections.
This is the written response today from cabinet office minister Lord Bridges of Headley: “The amount initially drawn down from the Consolidated Fund for the conduct of the 2014 European Parliamentary election was £69.0M.
“While the final cost will differ from this figure, depending on the actual level of Returning Officers’ expenses, it provides an indication of the cost of running the poll.
“The total cost of delivering election mailings for the candidates and parties who stood at the 2014 European Parliamentary election was £40.6m.”
The consolidated fund is the UK government’s general bank account at the Bank of England.
Taking a further look back to the 2009 Euro elections, and independent research unit Democratic Audit – based at the London School of Economics – came up with a figure in terms of the cost.
*Source: Berry, R, (2013) The UK spends approximately £150 million per year administering elections, Democratic Audit blog http://www.democraticaudit.com/?p=3537 March 8 2014 (accessed on 8 February 2016)
There are calls for an English parliament to be created following the Scottish independence referendum – and the possibility of Scotland remaining in the UK but with enhanced powers following the historic vote.
An e-petition backing an English parliament has been quietly trending on the UK government’s e-petition website. At the moment, it has slightly more 1,200 signatures – but has won support from political ranks.
And could the pressure for an English parliament ramp up once the details of promised “devo-max” powers for Scotland are detailed – if Scotland votes to stay in the union? And even if it’s a yes to independence, will there still be pressure for some radical rethinking on how the remaining UK is governed?
Here’s the full English parliament e-petition (verbatim): “Westminster to become England’s parliament with MP’s only elected from English constituencies. Representative’s from the devolved assemblies in the UK to attend only when UK matters are discussed.”
Hundreds of people have signed a petition lodged on a UK government website calling for a referendum in the North East of England to decide whether the region should join Scotland or stay with England.
Better with Scotland?
The epetition says that many in the North East feel distant from the UK government in Westminster economically and politically – and that the Scottish parliament has proved there’s another way of running public services.
Redrawing the England-Scotland boundary
The UK government is urged to grant a referendum to voters who live north of Hadrian’s Wall or in Newcastle and North Tyneside council areas by the epetition, to allow electors there to decide whether to stay with England or join Scotland.
If there was a yes vote, the epetition says that the new border would follow the line of Hadrian’s Wall west of Newcastle, where it would go south to the river Tyne, then east to the coast.
Devo-UK and calls for an English Parliament
The really interesting thing is that this isn’t the only epetition advocating radical changes to the constitutional set-up of the UK. Some of those are explicitly linked to the Scottish independence referendum – including several epetitions calling for an English parliament.
I’ve already written about how the Scottish independence referendum will have a profound effect on the UK government and how power is distributed across the UK – whether Scotland votes to leave the union or stays within it.
The UK political leaders have promised more powers for Scotland if it stays within the UK, and if that argument wins the day where does that leave the rest of the UK?
One epetition calling for an English parliament is “trending” on the UK government’s epetition website at the time of writing this blog post.
As you can see from the screen grab below, it doesn’t have many signatures, but it is still there all the same. And could it be a sign of things to come if the UK moves to a more federal structure?
Allow people in North East England to join Scotland
Responsible department: Cabinet Office
Many people in the North East feel distant from our government in Westminster, both economically and politically. The Scottish Parliament has proved that different ways of running public services are possible, including an NHS without the internal market, Higher Education without tuition fees, and (if there’s a Yes vote in the Independence Referendum) defence without the threat of Trident.
We therefore call on the UK Government to grant a referendum to all who live north of Hadrian’s Wall, or in Newcastle and North Tyneside council areas. We would choose whether to remain in England or to join Scotland. We call on the Government to arrange and fund this referendum, and to be bound by the result.
If the people choose to join Scotland, the new border would follow the line of Hadrian’s Wall west of Newcastle, where it would go south to the river Tyne, then east to the coast. More detail and discussion is online at http://tyneside.motd.org/wiki.
Whatever the result in the Scottish independence referendum, where does that leave the UK and who governs it? As the title of this post suggests, that could be one hell of a hangover.
In the short-term
If Scottish voters do back independence, in the short-term there could be growing questions about the legitimacy of the UK government north of the border. A yes vote could be seen as a striking rejection of the British government in Westminster.
So, if there was a particularly controversial decision made by the UK government that the Scottish government did not like or the Scottish public what would happen? Would a newly empowered Scottish government, emboldened by a yes vote, simply say no – and where would that leave everything?
On the flip side, questions might be increasingly asked about the legitimacy of Scottish MPs sitting in Westminster. And that draining away of legitimacy would only increase in speed as the date of the actual break-up of the current UK neared.
What business would Scottish MPs – some might argue – have for example on deciding UK-wide legislation that was being discussed before Scotland left the union, but which only came into effect after Scottish independence?
The 2015 UK general election. Scottish independence = a headache for Ed Miliband
Fast forward to May 2015. This is the date when the next UK general election has been fixed.
Ed Miliband’s Labour party is the biggest party – and he is on track to become the British prime minister. (That is of course, if Mr Miliband is still leading the Labour party – see update below)
But there is a hitch.
A good number of the Labour leader’s MPs represent Scotland.
But say the date of 24 March 2016 is set for Scotland to become independent from the UK?
That’s little more than a year down the line – so what happens?
Voters in the remaining UK might be unhappy to see a prime minister who was helped to be put in Number 10 by people who won’t be part of the same country in less than 12 months.
And what if Labour did a deal with the Liberal Democrats – and some of their MPs also happened to represent Scottish seats in these circumstances?
Scottish independence: Conscious Uncoupling or messy divorce? Possible responses
1. Scottish MPs withdrawing from all debates and votes in the UK parliament apart from those relating to Scotland or UK wide issues
Such a move could see Scottish MPs, including Labour frontbenchers, limiting their functions at Westminster in the run-up to independence. But it could spark controversy about second-class MPs in the UK.
2. Delaying the UK general election until after Scottish independence
If 25 March 2016 was Scottish independence day, how about delaying the UK election by a year or so? There is the small issue of fixed parliaments and whether the UK public would agree to such a delay anyway.
3. No Scottish MPs elected to Westminster in the 2015 general election
Technically, Scotland would remain part of the UK until independence, so many would argue that it would still need representation at UK level until that date.
4. Decide the 2015 UK election on rest of the UK lines
Under this plan, the UK government would be formed on the basis of who won the most seats in the rest of the UK. This could see the Tories and David Cameron (if he is still the party’s leader – see update below) returned to power as the largest single party.
5. Hold the 2015 UK election and then hold another election after Scottish independence
Another option might be to go ahead with the 2015 general election, but for the consequent UK government to only hold office until Scotland left the UK.
At which point, another UK election would be held based on the new borders.
Who governs Britain / the remaining UK
Taking a look at the latest analysis by pollster Peter Kellner from YouGov, Labour would be the biggest party after the 2015 UK election.
Ed Miliband would have 316 seats – just 10 seats short of an overall majority. But this tally includes Scotland.
Take Scotland out of the sums and the Conservatives would be the biggest party with 278 seats with Labour down to 274 seats.
The Lib Dems would change from 27 to 18 seats, while others would go from 27 seats to 21 seats in a Westminster parliament.
There’s also the potential impact of Ukip on the UK general election and how much that could change the electoral calculations.
Some protocols may well have been drawn up in Whitehall to deal with all these potential outcomes, but they may not account for events, human emotions and sentiment,and the politics of the near future.
How about a UK caretaker government?
Given the electoral timetable and the huge issues that would need to be resolved if Scotland left the UK, would a caretaker government make sense?
So, hold the UK general election in May 2015 but then have a caretaker government in place for around a year while negotiations with the Scottish government were concluded.
Under this scenario, Scotland would then become independent and a new election for the remaining UK would then be held.
Of course, there might be worries about the caretaker government not being able to provide stability or do very much. But given the historic change that Scotland independence would involve, it might be a chance for the rest of the UK to take stock and think about its own future.
Even if Scotland votes no, there are questions. A federal UK?
(UPDATE 14.59 07/09/14) Scotland may get further devolution of powers even if it votes no. But even if that happens, the UK will have changed – and that leaves questions about the role of Scottish MPs, how the next UK government would be formed for example.
Another issue might be that of devolution for England – perhaps an English parliament or handing powers to regions/areas of England.
Could the UK look like or become more like a federal country? That’s a question to throw into the mix for another blog post.
Interesting views as well from Twitter including from top political journalist David Madddox – could a yes vote result in a Tory victory in the UK general election because of a fear of Labour being propped up by “foreign Scottish MPs”?
And would David Cameron and Ed Miliband both come under pressure to resign if they fail to “save the union”. That would add further fuel to the hangover for the UK if Scotland backs independence.
Of course, there would still be the issues of what to do with Scottish MPs and the UK general election if Scotland says yes to independence. Would it make the case for a caretaker government even stronger?
The Bank of England should also be renamed the Sterling Central Bank to reflect “political reality” of different areas using the pound – which include Guernsey and Jersey – according to a House of Commons motion signed by more than a dozen MPs.
The suggestion comes as the battle over Scotland’s future heats up ahead of an independence referendum.
As previously discussed on this blog, the Channel Islands use the pound but have no say in monetary policy – which sits with the Bank of England.
But a group of MPs seem to have suggested there could be a case for the Bailiwicks of Guernsey and Jersey having a say in British monetary policy, along with the Isle and Man and the devolved administrations in Scotland, Wales and Northern Ireland.
Their argument is that these areas all use the pound despite have differing degrees of fiscal independence – and that the current set-up at the Bank of England needs reforming as a result.
The MPs’ motion states that it “believes in the spirit of a partnership of equals within the currency zone that the devolved parliaments in future should each appoint an external member” to the Bank of England’s monetary policy committee.
On top of that, the MPs say that the Bank of England should be renamed the Sterling Central Bank to reflect “political reality”. There would also be improved accountability arrangements for all parties involved.
The arguments have been put forward in a House of Commons early day motion, which is a way of MPs raising issues of concern.