Friday 28 July 2023

Would Scotland be part of the Common Travel Area?


When the UK left the EU, it would have been possible for the UK to pursue an agreement with the EU similar to the EFTA (European Free Trade Association) states of Iceland, Liechtenstein, Norway and Switzerland. The UK was a founder member of EFTA in 1960. Doing so would have meant the UK retained many of the advantages of EU membership, while avoiding some of the disadvantages. A number of Brexit supporters therefore proposed EFTA membership at least as a temporary position.

I primarily wished the UK to leave the EU because I did not want the UK to be part of the EU’s project of ever closer union. The EU is at present perhaps best described as a sort of confederation. Member states are at least nominally independent sovereign nation states. This is similar to the early years of the United States between 1781 and 1789 and indeed the Confederate States of America from 1861 to 1865.

The problem with confederations is that they are so loose that they are always in danger of falling apart. At some point it is necessary for central control and to tell the participants that they are not independent sovereign states, but rather part of either a unitary nation state (like the UK or France) or a federal state (like Germany or Australia). This is why the EU is moving slowly but surely towards becoming a federation.

The EU’s movement towards federation can be seen in its introduction of Schengen, the Single Market and especially the Euro. Ideas such as a European defence force, common taxation and fiscal union show that the EU is moving towards political union. This was the whole point of introducing the Euro as shared currency as it would in time necessitate political union.

If you don’t want to be part of a United States of Europe, you have to leave. The UK including the vast majority of Remainers and indeed the SNP neither wanted the Euro nor did it want to be part of Schengen. Remainers wanted to keep all of the UK opt outs and gain more if possible. The SNP does not wish to join the Euro and hopes for some sort of opt out from Schengen. It doesn’t want Scotland to be a region of the EU, which makes joining senseless.

But then EFTA provided a way of avoiding political union but retaining the economic and social advantages of EU membership. But the reason this was rejected was Leave voters were promised control over UK borders. EFTA states must sign up to free movement of EU citizens and are part of the Single Market.

I have always thought it foolish to object to free movement of EU citizens and unless the UK is going to radically undercut the EU we might as well have remained part of the Single Market. The UK like most European countries has an aging demographic, because not enough children have been born in past decades. We can either get workers from the EU or from elsewhere. The consequence of leaving the EU has been that we are now importing one million people a year mainly from outside the EU rather than from inside the EU. We have gained nothing from cutting ourselves off from a necessary labour supply.

But control of UK borders was central politically to Brexit and so EFTA was never an option.

If the UK had chosen the EFTA option, then Scottish independence would have been unproblematic in terms of borders. If Scotland, then chose to join the EU then the UK would still have had open borders with Scotland and both would still be part of the EU’s Single Market. Brexit would have changed little.

But it is in this context that the SNP’s latest paper on citizenship makes some very dubious assumptions. It treats the UK as if it had chosen EFTA membership after Brexit when it did not.

Many of the issues that have plagued us since 2016 especially the relationship between Northern Ireland, Ireland and Britain would not have existed at all if the UK had chosen EFTA membership. There would have been free movement of goods and people between Britain and Northern Ireland without any checks and without any backstop. Nobody would have thought of a regulatory border within the island of Ireland anymore than they thought of it before Brexit.

But the SNP is arguing that if Scotland left the UK there would be free movement of goods, services and people between Scotland and the former UK even though the UK went to the enormous trouble of leaving the Single Market and stopping free movement of people. If the UK allowed free movement of goods and people with Scotland it might as well allow it with France. It would indeed be advantageous to do so. But in that case, it might as well allow it with the whole EU. But that amounts to EFTA.

There is of course one EU member state that retains both free movement with the EU and free movement with the UK. Ireland since it left the UK has been part of the Common Travel Area.  This was set up because of Northern Ireland. But even the Common Travel Area did not stop there being an external trade border between the EU and the UK. It’s just not where it should be.

Ireland is an independent sovereign state. There is an international border between it and Northern Ireland. This is where the border controls and checks ought to have taken place. It was only because of the ineptness of Theresa May if not her perfidy that the UK ended up agreeing to place the external border of the EU down the Irish sea, i.e. within a non-EU member.

So, there is despite the Common Travel Area an EU border between Britain and Ireland. This means that even if Scotland were granted membership of the Common Travel Area goods and services between Scotland and the former UK would have to be regulated and checked.

But there is no reason to suppose that Scotland would be offered membership of the Common Travel Area, for the very simple reason that the reason the Common Travel Area was created and maintained was Northern Ireland and Scotland is not Northern Ireland.

The Common Travel Area requires that both Ireland and the UK pursue similar immigration policies. Ireland is not part of Schengen and will stop non-EU citizens without a British visa from entering. But membership of Schengen is now a requirement for new EU member states. Anyway, the SNP want as liberal an immigration policy as it possibly can get. But how would Humza Yousaf keep them in Scotland?

By far the greatest number of people not born in Scotland who live here are from other parts of the UK. There are more than half a million. A tenth of Scotland’s population. Relatively few by comparison are from the EU or the rest of the world. So even when the UK was part of the EU its citizens for the most part didn’t want to live in Scotland.

But Scotland’s population is not going to increase if you put an international border between those people who are most likely to want to live in Scotland (UK citizens) who come to Scotland primarily because it is not a foreign country the laws and regulations are the same as where they come from. EU citizens and those from other parts of the world, will simply use free movement with the former UK to move there.

The UK went to enormous trouble to end free movement between the EU and the UK. It was willing to allow an internal EU border between Britain and Northern Ireland to achieve it. But the SNP think that as a reward for Scexit and destroying the UK, the former UK would offer it the free movement that it denies to France and Germany. Anything is possible of course, but the SNP cannot assume membership of the Common Travel Area as it would be for a future UK Government to decide this not Scotland. It would after all involve a repudiation of the political strategy of Brexit.