Should Denmark join the UK?

Christiansborg Christiansborg  With the 'tower of power'. Christiansborg is where the danish parliment ('Folketinget') resides.
Christiansborg Christiansborg With the 'tower of power'. Christiansborg is where the danish parliment ('Folketinget') resides., a photo by boegh on Flickr.
British unionists love to praise the Union in such a way that you'd think every small country in the vicinity would want to (re-)join the UK. I presume the arguments would be similar for Ireland, Iceland, Norway, Sweden and the Netherlands, but given that I spent the first 30 years of my life in Denmark, I'll examine whether this country ought to join the UK.

I'm assuming Denmark would get a devolution deal similar to Scotland's, so that the Danish Folketing would still be in charge of quite a lot of policy areas.

From the UK's point of view, the deal is a no-brainer because the UK would suddenly become an import player in the Arctic region (Denmark includes Greenland), which would reinforce the UK's position as a world player and make it less likely the permanent seat on the UN Security Council would get lost. The practical implications would be minor:

  1. The House of Commons would get an addition of Danish members. Given that Denmark is tiny bit bigger than Scotland, we might be talking about adding 63 Danish members to the existing 650 MPs. The Danish members would probably support both sides equally, so it shouldn't disturb matters too much.
  2. The House of Lords would need some Danish lords, too, but there wouldn't be any need for a specific number.
  3. Revenues from the Danish North Sea oil rigs would go straight to Westminster.
  4. Danes would be paying a lot of taxes straight to Westminster. In return, a block grant would be sent back to Copenhagen.

From Denmark's point of view, things are more complicated. The positives include that the British army would have to defend Denmark (but then they already have that obligation, given that both countries are part of NATO), and that the UK would be bailing out any bankrupt Danish banks (but in return Denmark wouldn't be able to limit the size of the Danish banks, and it's likely that the biggest ones would shift a large part of their operations to London).

Here are some things that wouldn't change:

  1. Education: Education would be fully devolved, so Denmark could still let kids start school at the age of 7, maintain Danish as the language of instruction, and keep its own exams. The downside of this is that Danes wouldn't automatically get better at English, nor would they start sitting internationally well-known exams.
  2. Health: The Danish NHS would be maintained without change. However, funding would come out of Westminster's block grant for Denmark.
  3. Police: There would still be a Danish police force. But PET and FE would be replaced by MI5 and MI6, and the UK Border Agency would take over the task of guarding the Danish border.
  4. Agriculture and fisheries: Denmark would still have powers in these areas, but the UK would represent Denmark at the EU's decision-making meetings.

But here are a few things that would:

  1. Oil: The revenues from this would go straight to London, rather than strengthening the Danish economy. The way Denmark has just decided to raid the oil companies to pay for a £3.2bn improvement of the railways would become impossible.
  2. Foreign policy would be run from London. Denmark would have to pull out of the Nordic Council and the special cooperation across the Danish-German border. Denmark would have to introduce passport controls at the borders with Germany and Sweden.
  3. Economic and monetary affairs would be run from London. From time to time, the Bank of England's Monetary Policy Committee might include a Dane or two, but there wouldn't be a fixed quota.
  4. The Danish monarchy would be replaced by the British one, and Denmark would lose the right to choose its own form of government.
  5. There would presumably still be commercial TV channels covering Denmark, but the public-service TV channels would be merged with the BBC. They would still broadcast some Danish programmes at times, but the majority of the programming would be standard BBC stuff.
  6. The Danish army and navy would become parts of their British counterparts.
  7. Denmark would have to introduce normal UK taxation. Amongst other things, this would mean a reduction in personal taxation, VAT and car taxes, but it would also mean a loss of interest payment deductions and the commuting deduction. In total, this would probably mean that Denmark would have significantly less money to pay for parts of the welfare state, such as subsidised nurseries.
  8. Social benefits would be paid from London. Denmark would have to introduce the bedroom tax, and unemployment benefit would be the standard British jobseeker's allowance (something like £71 per week).

I find it very unlikely that a proposal for Denmark to join the UK would get even 1% support in a referendum. There are just almost no real benefits, and thousands of negative consequences.

Three hundred years ago, things might have looked different, but these days a small country can be part of the EU and NATO, and then there are just very few reasons for it to join a big one.

6 thoughts on “Should Denmark join the UK?”

  1. Brilliant. When you look at it from this perspective, it’s hard to imagine that any small country would enthusiastically push for a union.

    1. That’s why I’ve always been an enthusiastic supporter of Scottish independence. When you’re growing up in Denmark, you just never think “Oh damn, we’re too wee and too stupid to do what we want, I just wish we were a part of Germany/UK/Sweden/…”, so it’s very strange to move to Scotland and encounter that attitude.

  2. An interesting perspective Thomas. I think that there were good reasons for the union when it happened – religion of the monarch, war with France, exploiting an empire for economic gain. But now, as you point out, the EU and NATO means small European countries are not locked out of trade agreements or at risk of invasion from their neighbours… the empire is over… and who today cares about the religion of the queen?

    1. Exactly, Craig! I agree there were good reasons for the creation of Great Britain (although it wasn’t universally popular at the time), and indeed Scotland flourished initially. As you say, the empire is over, and what exactly is it we need the UK for these day?

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