Jersey and Guernsey ought to rethink their constitutional relationship with the UK – and could start by reconsidering “how we present ourselves to the outside world” and looking to drop the “practical but lazy” term ‘Crown Dependencies’, according to Guernsey’s former Chief Minister.
Gavin St Pier, guest speaker at yesterday’s Chamber of Commerce lunch, highlighted that despite being responsible for the islands, Brexit had shown that “if push came to shove, the UK’s position would prevail”.
Deputy St Pier said: "If we have arrived at a point where conventions only hold for so long as its tactically convenient, then we are at risk. This is a significant threat the islands face. Engaging with these issues is not on local agendas and will never be a priority for UK ministers and their civil servants, so all advice will be to keep our heads down, not to rock the boat and to let sleeping dogs lie.
"That systemic inertia from the establishment risks us sleep-walking into a constitutional crisis on a topic and at a time not of our choosing. It could be the next LVCR, it could be the next beneficial ownership of companies, or it could be next fishing issue."
Deputy St Pier said the "most serious direct threat" to the Channel Islands during Theresa May's premiership came over legislation on beneficial ownership of companies, which he said was attempted to be passed 'without the islands' consent'. That "car crash" was only avoided as then-Lord Chancellor David Gauke "did the right thing" and withdrew the bill.
However, he said he had little confidence there would be the "same outcome" had Boris Johnson or Liz Truss been Prime Minister at the time.
Offering a solution that would help bolster the islands' own autonomy, Deputy St Pier said the time was right to "push for" its own Privy Counsellors – who provide advice when it comes to confirming legislation passed by the States.
He also suggested taking a "look at the appointment of Crown Officers", who he described as being "part of an ever-so-slightly incestuous process of appointments made by the Crown on the recommendation of a Venn diagram (depending on the role) of those self-same Crown appointees - these including the Bailiff, Deputy Bailiff Lieutenant-Governor, Attorney-General and Solicitor-General."
"There is a nod to some political input but barely a nod. The Crown appointees' primary responsibility is not to the insular governments but to the Crown, or more technically the 'Crown in right of' the islands, meaning the islands and their peoples. This is a nebulous concept that will mean something to the appointees, but very little to anyone else, suffice to say it could well trump the democratically elected island government of the day, if the office holders so determine. "
The islands should also consider how they are termed by the UK.
"At some point in the 1970s it seems some Whitehall civil servant dreamt up the term 'Crown Dependencies' as shorthand, pre-word processors, for having to type into every document, 'Jersey, Guernsey and the Isle of Man.' That practical but lazy term has been further shortened to 'CDs' and both have become embedded into political and public discourse, with little understanding of the what the term means.
"It's an unfortunate term, as we are not dependent of course on the Crown – or indeed anyone or anything else - and we never have been. Personally, if we must stick with CDs, I'd prefer that we morph the term and use 'Crown Dominions' – for that is what we are. Indeed, we are the oldest dominions of the Crown."
He concluded: "...I have no doubt that with political will and determination, the status quo can be nudged and our position improved, making us less susceptible to whimsical breach of conventions should the UK continue to convulse politically in the years ahead."
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