Category Archives: EU

The walled city state of London

I’ve been really puzzled by recent reports that the UK government is thinking about “making future payments worth several billion pounds to the EU to secure privileged access to the single market for City firms to continue trading across the continent.”

It’s all a bit vague, but as far as I know, the City of London depends on many parts of the Internal Market, such as financial passporting, the free movement of people (to allow key personel to move around the EU easily), the free movement of capital, and probably also being within the Customs Union. In other words, we’d probably be talking about something approaching full EU membership (albeit without voting rights) for the City of London – which is, of course, also why they’re expecting to pay a lot of money for it.

I can see several problems with it, however.

Firstly, I’m not entirely sure why the EU would agree to it. Most of the member states are probably already salivating at the thought of poaching valuable financial companies from London.

Secondly, I’m not entirely sure where they would draw the border. Many financial companies are located outwith the boundaries of the historical City of London, so surely they’d want to pick a larger area – perhaps even the entire Greater London area.

Thirdly, this only makes sense if the government is expecting the rest of the UK to be outside the Internal Market – otherwise there wouldn’t be any point in going through a lot of hassle setting this up. However, how is this going to work? If EU citizens can freely move to the City of London but need to go through passport controls to travel to the rest of the UK, how will this happen? Will the government build a wall around London?

I really cannot for the life of me see how this can possibly work. Are they perhaps just trying to calm down the City of London while they figure out how hard a Brexit they want?

Getting permanent residency as an EU citizen

I’ve been thinking about getting a leave-to-remain certificate and perhaps eventually a UK passport, but I’ve been put off by the paperwork (and the intrusiveness of some of the questions). I never actually worked out exactly what would be required and what it would cost, though. Fortunately, Olaya De la Iglesia (an EU citizen who’s married to a local and has kids with them, just like me) has done just that on Facebook:

The paperwork needed to get a permanent residence card.
The paperwork needed to get a permanent residence card.

So as an EU immigrant that has lived here for 16 years and is married to a Brit and has 2 British born children this is the amount of paperwork I have to provide to prove to the Home Office I have lived here for 5 years (nevermind the other 11!).

Some people are wondering why I am doing this. No, at this particular point I do not NEED to have this to stay here, but I have British children and I am worried of what is going to happen to us if I do not secure ‘right to remain’ before Brexit actually happens. Additionally if I become naturalised I get to vote in any future elections, and if we leave we have our options open to come back, for example to visit my husband’s family without the need for me to arrange extra paperwork because I am the only non-Brit…. hope that clarifies it.

This is to get a ‘residence certificate’, NOT an application of citizenship, and this step was introduced only in March 2016, prior to that you did not have to do this. I shall give you a list of the things I must send, they all have to be originals and cover the whole 5 year period.

  • Application form – 85 pages!!
  • Passport (current and any previous passports held)
  • Payslips
  • P60s
  • Employment contracts
  • Letters from employers confirming dates and wage
  • If self employed at any point bank statements
  • Proof of address – *at least* 2 documents for each year evenly spread throughout the year
  • Child benefit letters
  • Tax credit letters
  • Evidence of every trip abroad
  • Marriage certificate
  • Photos
  • Special delivery signed for self addressed envelope (if you want to ensure you get all this stuff back)

The kicker is I ALREADY DID ALL THIS IN 2004!! I have a residence permit that entitles me to indefinite right to remain, but apparently it is of no use now. I have to do this again… and after this I have to;

  • Do the ‘Life in the UK’ test – £50 + book £10
  • Apply for naturalisation – £1236 (+ £80 if you want to use the checking service)
  • Attend the citizenship ceremony – £80
  • Apply for a passport – £82.25
  • Add to that postage costs, time taken, possibly transport to council and checking offices…. Oh, and if you get naturalisation application wrong, they reject it, keep the £1.2k and don’t even have to tell you why it was rejected!

Someone might say they have tried to make this difficult… I wonder what you have to do if you have £5mil in the bank?

She’s also very helpfully has created a petition (although it’s currently getting checked).

I pointed out in my article on Bella straight after the referendum that the hassle associated with getting a leave-to-remain certificate was a major stress factor for EU nationals here, and that vague reassurances from the Scottish Government are less useful than getting some help with the process (given that Holyrood won’t be in charge of residency requirement till after independence).

Nothing happened, so I asked the same question in writing at Nicola Sturgeon’s meeting with EU nationals in Edinburgh. Here’s the answer I got:

You ask if the Scottish Government could establish a helpline or advice bureau to help EU citizens secure a right to reside. You will wish to note that the Scottish Government funds the provision of an Immigration and Visa Support Service (IVSS) through TalentScotland. The main focus of this service is on providing guidance, support and information on business immigration for Scottish based businesses and inward investors. In addition, their website also offers general information aimed at both EEA and non-EEA nationals.

The information provided by IVSS includes links to Home Office guidance about how EEA nationals can obtain residency documentation, permanent residency documentation and citizenship. This is available at:….

To be honest, I was rather underwhelmed by this answer. The problem is not finding the form you need to fill out, but getting help with the process. For instance, what to do if you – like me – haven’t kept a record of your trips abroad. Or getting your application pre-checked to ensure it doesn’t fail because of a typo.

Of course the very best solution (apart from Scottish independence happening before Brexit) would be for the UK government to issue permanent leave-to-remain certificates to all EU citizens who were resident here on the day of the Brexit referendum. If they’ve already realised they cannot chuck us out, I don’t see what they’d lose. Surely processing all these huge applications must be extremely time-consuming, and it’d be more rational to spend that time negotiating a better Brexit deal. Fortunately, some EU citizens have started lobbying MPs for this. Let’s hope they succeed.

Will the EU take a leap forward without the UK?

Instapic: the EU flag statue inside the European Parliament
Instapic: the EU flag statue inside the European Parliament.
What many people in the UK don’t realise is the extent to which the UK has held back the EU. When I still lived in Denmark, I was an active member of my party’s EU politics committee, and when we discussed with people from Brussels why the EU didn’t do this or that, very often the answer was that London had vetoed it. Of course other countries sometimes insisted on things too, such as France’s insistence on keeping the European Parliament in Strasbourg, or Greece’s veto on accepting relations with Macedonia under that name, but Westminster politicians got their way in many and varied ways.

It’s instructive to note that even before Brexit takes place, the other countries are already starting to think about the prospects of creating an EU army (and if it’s something Germany can live with, I don’t think it’s going to be a bad thing).

Another example of something that might change is Schengen, the passport-free travel zone encompassing most EU countries as well as Norway, Iceland and Switzerland. It is a real blessing that has made a huge change to people living close to borders. (I’m aware that it ran into massive problems recently because of the massive amounts of refugees, but things seem to be calming down again.)

Schengen started out separate from the EU. Why was that? Because the UK vetoed it, of course. And today only the UK and Ireland want to remain outside it – the other non-members (Bulgaria, Croatia, Cyprus, and Romania) want to join as soon as possible, I believe.

So once the UK leaves, what will happen to Schengen? In the short term, nothing much. But in the slightly longer term, there will be a desire to create an equivalence between the EU and Schengen (so that, for instance, one can talk about an EU visa rather than a Schengen one). Allowing for a few extra countries such as Norway or Iceland shouldn’t be a problem – they’re practically EU members without a vote anyway.

The problem will be Ireland. I predict that Ireland will come under pressure to abandon the Common Travel Area with the UK and join Schengen instead. It will have many advantages for Ireland, too, and to be honest I think their only real concern will be Northern Ireland.

The Euro is yet another part of the EU that might get integrated better with the rest of the union over time. Apart from the UK, only Denmark has a formal opt-out, so once the UK leaves, it will be tempting to start merging the normal policy-making forums with the parallel ones controlling the Eurozone.

Wouldn’t it be interesting if the EU suddenly starts functioning much better without the UK? And imagine if the UK regrets Brexit after a few years and suddenly has to join Schengen, the Euro and other projects Westminster fought tooth and nail for decades?

Is Scotland going for the worst possible solution?

Hard & soft
Hard & soft.
I’m seeing more and more independence supporters saying that we should wait and see what Brexit brings before launching Indyref2, so perhaps delaying it till 2020 or even later.

For instance, Iain Macwhirter wrote the following in The Sunday Herald today:

I don’t think we’ll see another Scottish referendum until well into the 2020s because the implications of Brexit will take many years to sort out. Article 50 hasn’t been declared yet and isn’t going to be for some time. It will take more than two years to disentangle Britain from the EU, and the years immediately after formal departure will be as chaotic, if not more chaotic, than now.

Robin McAlpine has expressed similar thoughts in the past, for instance at the recent Independence Rally on Glasgow Green.

I’m afraid I totally disagree with such ideas. Getting dragged out of the EU and then rejoining a couple of years later is insane, as anybody who knows the complexity of the modern EU will tell you. It means going through enormous amounts of change and then reverting everything immediately afterwards.

Of course it depends what kind of Brexit we’re getting.

If the Tories opt for a soft Brexit (essentially a Norwegian solution, which means that the free movement of goods, capital, services and people will be maintained), I agree it makes sense to take a deep breath and think hard about the timing of the next independence referendum. The main downside to delaying is perhaps that all of us EU citizens will have lost our right to vote in it, but it shouldn’t affect other people or businesses drastically. I still think there would be many advantages to Scotland remaining within the EU when the rUK leaves, but we can sit down and have a civilised discussion about the pros and cons.

On the other hand, if the Westminster government goes for a hard Brexit, taking us out of the Internal Market and all the other parts of the EU in order to restrict migration, we need to get out in time. Sadly, all the smoke signals emerging from Westminster seem to be pointing towards this being the preferred solution.

A hard Brexit will be a like a wrecking ball taken to the Scottish economy, and saying that we might leave five years later if we don’t like it will only make things worse. This is because a hard Brexit will be both a disaster and a business opportunity. Lots of companies are going to relocate to the rEU, shedding a lot of jobs here in the process. However, once that is done, there will presumably be opportunities to create products and services to replace those that suddenly cannot be sourced from the rEU profitably. For instance, if it becomes clear that the UK will slap a 20% import tax on Manchego cheese from Spain, it might become a business opportunity to create a clone here for the British consumer. My gut feeling is that there won’t be enough of these new jobs to replace the ones lost to the rEU in the medium term, but at least there will be a few of them. However, if you’re a business person thinking about setting up a company making a British Manchego clone, will you place it in Scotland if there is a possibility that Scotland will five years later leave the rUK and rejoin the EU? No, of course not. You’ll place the company south of the border. If it’s clear that Scotland will remain in the EU if the rUK goes for a hard Brexit, many of the EU-oriented businesses will potentially relocate to Scotland, but if it isn’t clear what Scotland is going for, we won’t get any of them – they’ll go to Ireland, Germany or some other rEU country instead. We need to make it clear whether we’re going to stay within the Internal Market or remaining within the UK no matter what, or we’ll end up in the worst of all possible worlds, getting neither relocating EU businesses nor new post-Brexit companies. It would be a disaster of Darien Scheme proportions.

I’m not saying we need to call the referendum just yet. But Nicola Sturgeon needs to go out and say that Scotland will remain within the Internal Market, and if Westminster are going for a hard Brexit, Scotland will hold a new independence referendum in time for Scotland to leave the UK before Brexit happens. This would also provide the kind of message control that Robin McAlpine has correctly called for.

The morning after Brexit, when Nicola took charge and promised EU citizens and their families in Scotland that we’d be OK, we were all ready to kiss her. The impression I and others got was that she would explore the options for keeping Scotland within the Internal Market (e.g., whether a Reverse Greenland would be possible), but that she would definitely call a new independence referendum if that was the only was to achieve that. You can always discuss the finer legal and linguistic aspects of her statement, but that was definitely the impression I was left with. Because of this, if she follows the advice offered by Messrs. Macwhirter and McAlpine and allows Scotland to be taken out of the Internal Market just because the opinion polls aren’t favourable enough (and let’s face it, they’re much better now than when Indyref1 was called), she will have broken the promise she made to us that morning, and I will be tearing my SNP membership card apart.

Hopefully I’m just worrying needlessly, and all that is happening just now is that the SNP leadership are trying to ascertain whether the Brexit will be soft or hard before fixing a date for the next independence referendum. Salmond’s prediction that it’ll be held in two years time sounds OK to me, although I don’t like the fact that Boris Johnson has started saying that the negotiations might be concluded in less than two years, in which case we might have less time than we think.

The reason for the lack of movement in the opinion polls, as well as for the laid-back attitude with regard to Brexit exhibited by the Indyref2-after-2020 crowd, is perhaps the general feeling in the UK media that Brexit isn’t going to be that bad after all, based on the fact the economy is still ticking along nicely. However, Brexit hasn’t happened yet, and many businesses will be waiting to find out whether it’s going to be soft or hard before relocating, so we ain’t seen nothing yet. This is likely to change soon, however. I’ve started hearing about the first redundancies due to Brexit amongst my acquaintances this week, and if that continues, the general mood might change abruptly. We need to be ready to seize the moment when that happens.

The 173,000 Yes voters that will disappear overnight in 2019

Driving into Scotland after 2018
Driving into Scotland after 2018.
One fact that seems to be overlooked by many commentators is that when the UK leaves the EU, all EU citizens living in Scotland will get disenfranchised overnight because it’s an EU rule that gives us the right to vote in local elections, and independence referendums use the same franchise. So when Brexit happens, we’ll suddenly have no special status and will be treated the same as Americans or Argentinians, which means we won’t be able to vote.

Because voting Yes to Scottish independence this time is a complete no-brainer to any EU citizen living in Scotland (differently from last time, when many thought continued EU membership was secured better by voting No), it means we will lose up to 173,000 safe Yes votes by holding the referendum after the UK has left.

You’d need to feel extremely confident about the result of Indyref2 to discard these safe Yes votes just because you don’t really like the timeframe it imposes on you.

However, there are many other good reasons to hold the referendum before Brexit happens, as explored well by Wings over Scotland today.

It’s an excellent article, and I agree with most of he writes. However, I think he’s wrong in thinking that it’ll happen in May 2019:

So if we assume it must happen by next May, that makes May 2019 the logical cut-off point for Brexit. It’s coincidentally also the date the next European election is due – an event which of course remains on the UK political calendar, precisely because we haven’t even begun the process of Brexit yet.

It would be farcical for the UK to still be an EU member at that point – because we’d still have to hold those elections if there was no clear exit date in place – but in the current UK political climate, something being farcical is no barrier to it happening.

Nevertheless, let’s take it as the closest thing that we’ve got to a rationally plausible outcome. It would make sense to hold a second indyref at the same time. It would massively reduce the costs and admin, and it’s infinitely preferable from everyone’s point of view – Scotland’s, the EU’s and the rUK’s – for Scotland to STAY in the EU rather than to be dragged out then try to JOIN at a later date.

(Honestly, it’s simply not possible to overstate how much that’s the case. For about a thousand mainly pretty obvious reasons the technicalities of the latter scenario, for all three entities, would by comparison be absolutely insanely complex and costly. It’d be a lot less trouble just to go to war with Russia.)

I totally agree that it’d be barking mad to be dragged out only to rejoin a couple of years later, but I just can’t see how it can technically be done in time to ensure continued EU membership if we don’t vote till May 2019. Two years ago we argued that we needed about 18 months to set up an independent state. I always thought it could be done quicker, but the six months it took Czechia and Slovakia to separate is probably the gold standard. I would therefore say that the autumn of 2018 is the latest realistical time for the referendum to ensure Scotland remains within the EU without spending some time outside the door. (Unless, of course, we pre-negotiate everything, but I doubt Westminster will agree to doing that.)

One last note: At the rally on Glasgow Green yesterday, Robin McAlpine seemed to argue that we had to wait till at least 2020 before holding Indyref2 because Westminster won’t let us hold a new referendum before 2019 because they’re too busy with Brexit to allow themselves to get distracted by other matters. Surely that’s an excellent reason to hold it sooner rather than later – it can only help us if Westminster are too busy to interfere, and as somebody who believes in the sovereignty of the people of Scotland I don’t think Westminster can morally or politically block it anyway.

Reverse Greenland

Lots of people are currently talking about Scotland (and perhaps Gibraltar) doing a Reverse Greenland, which means that the UK would leave but Scotland (et al.) would remain within the EU.

I don’t think that’s particularly likely for the following two reasons:

  1. A Greenlandic solution doesn’t mean that Greenland is independent in all areas where the EU is representing Denmark. Instead, Copenhagen is ultimately in charge of these areas (unless they’re devolved, of course). In other words, if Scotland achieved a Reverse Greenland solution, Westminster would for instance have to conduct their own trade policy for England while representing Scotland in Brussels at trade summits. It would lead to a lot of conflicts of interest at Westminster, and I don’t think Brussels would like this at all.
  2. As Craig Murray has pointed out, there’s no legal basis in the EU treaties for having a territory of a non-member state as a member: “The European Union is an institution which is based on treaties which have legal force. There is nothing whatsoever in any of those treaties, and nothing in any existing arrangement with any state, that makes it possible for part of a state, even a federal state, to be inside the EU, when the state itself is outside. […] The Greenland case is not in the least comparable because its relationship with the EU is based on the fact that it is an autonomous territory of an EU member state, Denmark. That is completely different from the situation of an autonomous territory of an EU non-member, which the UK will be.” I presume this means that the only way it would work would be if the UK remained a member, and England and Wales then left the EU (like Greenland). Given the size of England, I really can’t see this happening.

However, I think it’s absolutely correct and proper that Nicola Sturgeon explores all options before calling a second independence referendum.

Après le Brexit, la déluge

Brexit / EU Scrabble
Brexit / EU Scrabble.
The EU has made many errors in the past decade. In particular, the way the European Council (consisting of the national heads of state) are in charge of most things at the moment is at best counterproductive. I’d like to see a lot of the power shifting to the Commission and the European Parliament, and I’d like to see a clearer division of powers (so that for instance it’s clear what the Greek government are in charge of, rather than heaping pressure on them repeatedly to pursue those policies that other countries think would be best, rather than their own manifesto).

However, we shouldn’t forget that the EU has been an astounding success in spite of its failings. No wars on its territory, the right to travel freely and to apply for a job wherever you want, and many, many more things. If the EU didn’t exist, we should create it.

There is therefore not any doubt in my mind that I want the EU to exist. I just want it to be better — more democratic, better at providing prosperity for normal people, and more open to radical ideas like Scottish and Catalan independence within the EU.

How do we obtain such a better EU? Do we make the current one collapse and hope that a new and better one instantly rises from the ashes, or do we stay on the inside and try to reform it together with like-minded people from all the member states? The answer is, of course, the latter. If the EU falls apart, the individual countries will instantly reinforce border controls, enact trade wars and in general do many things that will make it hard and laborious to recreate a European union.

And of course the bloody Tories have chosen the worst possible time to hold an In/Out referendum! Before 2008 or so, the EU was quite stable and would have been able to deal with the consequences quite easily. At the moment it appears very fragile, however: (1) The Greek drama of 2015 seriously endangered the monetary union and has made people question whether the EU has any answers to the financial crisis; (2) the current refugee crisis is close to breaking Schengen (the open borders part of the EU); and (3) the authoritarian governments of Hungary and Poland are undermining the EU’s status as a club of liberal democracies (because the rules for suspending a country’s voting rights assume that there’ll only ever be one “bad” country at any one time).

History is a great example of chaos theory. There are stable periods when practically nothing important happens — of course small events take place, but they don’t rock the boat — and there are chaotic periods when one small event can have massive consequences.

It feels very strongly like we’re living through a chaotic time like the 1930s (which is of course why Scottish independence nearly happened — I doubt the indyref would have been half as successful if it had taken place ten years earlier). Of course the EU might survive Brexit, but there is a real danger it’ll be the straw that broke the camel’s back. If the UK votes to leave, the best hope for the EU is probably that it’ll be a complete disaster so that no other member state gets tempted to leave, but that won’t be any fun for ordinary people here (although that might definitely lead to Scottish independence in short order).

If Brexit is just moderately successful seen from the outside (i.e., it could be a complete disaster for most of the UK so long as London is booming so much that the country-wide statistics look OK), it could easily encourage anti-EU parties in other countries. Le Pen could win the French presidential election next year and start to implement a Frexit. And Denmark has already been quite focused on following London, so a Dexit could follow soon afterwards, too. And suddenly the whole house of cards might come tumbling down.

People who are against an organisation such as the EU existing at all should of course vote to Leave. I get really annoyed, however, when I see people advocating a Leave vote in order to achieve a better EU. It’s simply not going to happen. We need to protect the EU while working hard to reform it from the inside, and to do that, we need to vote to Stay.