Secession as a Point of Leverage (II)

LONDON/BERLIN (Own report) - Scotland has established an investment center in Berlin, thereby reinforcing its economic ties to the EU and causing - with German support - new tension in Great Britain. According to critics, in its intended secession from the United Kingdom, for which it must establish economic security, the Scottish government is relying on German help. In fact, to increase the pressure on London to achieve the "softest" Brexit possible, Berlin and Germany's regional governments are going out of their way to strengthen relations with Edinburgh. This is considered essential to German interests. Government advisors in Berlin are recommending using Ireland for obtaining influence in the negotiations concerning the borders between the Irish Republic and Northern Ireland. In the event of a "hard" Brexit, this border would be a particularly sensitive point. Berlin is also using EU foreigners, residing in the United Kingdom, as an additional bargaining chip. Chancellor Angela Merkel has refused to have their rights of residence clarified beforehand.

To Use Contradictions

Immediately following the June 23, 2016 Brexit Referendum, considerations to use the contradictions within the United Kingdom to apply leverage in the Brexit question were discussed, in Berlin. This was taking into account that, though the majority of the United Kingdom's voters had voted in favor of leaving the EU, this, however, had not been the case in Scotland and Northern Ireland, where 62% and 55.8%, respectively, had voted to remain. This is a delicate situation for London. In Scotland, there are strong aspirations favoring secession from Great Britain; in Northern Ireland plans have been made for uniting with the Republic of Ireland. In both cases, a majority is EU-oriented and feels encouraged in their separatism by Great Britain's upcoming exit from the EU. The idea has been to use Scottish separatism and Irish unification plans to increase pressure on London and the British government to force them to make concessions - with the indication that if London really leaves the EU, it would lose Scotland. For a while, it was even imaginable that the referendum could have been repeated. An alternative would have been to achieve a Brexit as "soft" as possible.

"Admit Scotland"

In this phase, Berlin openly supported Scottish separatism. For example, the Chair of the German parliament's EU Affairs Committee, Gunther Krichbaum (CDU) declared, June 26, 2016, "the EU will continue to consist of 28 member nations. I expect a new separatist referendum in Scotland, which will be successful. We should respond quickly to their membership application."[1] At the end of June, the President of the European Parliament, at the time, Martin Schulz (SPD), met with Scotland's head of government, Nicola Sturgeon. Sturgeon wanted to learn whether - and if so - how Scotland could remain in the EU in spite of Brexit. In early July, Sigmar Gabriel (SPD), at the time, Germany's Minister of the Economy, and today its Foreign Minister, followed suit, stating "The EU will most certainly accept Scotland, if this part of the United Kingdom should secede and want to join the EU."[2] In August, Sturgeon was received in Berlin by Michael Roth, Minister of State in the Foreign Ministry, who subsequently stated that he hoped that the United Kingdom would find "a way" forward that "will benefit Europe as a whole in the end."[3] In September, the SPD group of the Bavarian parliament received the Chair of the Scottish National Party's (SNP) parliamentary group in the House of Commons, Angus Robertson, at their closed session meeting in Bad Aibling, where Robertson announced he would be looking into how Scotland could remain in the EU, despite the Brexit. He received a hearty round of applause.[4]

Exit Referendum Number 2

Efforts to convince London to repeat the referendum or, at least, to accept a "soft" Brexit have, until now, been fruitless. The demand to repeat the referendum is hardly acceptable to the British establishment. Prime Minister Theresa May has set her sights on a "hard" Brexit, which has led Scotland's Prime Minister, Nicola Sturgeon to now call for a new referendum on Scotland's secession. It should take place before the Brexit takes effect and, if successful, an independent Scotland should remain in the EU. Only if Prime Minister May is prepared to remain within the EU common market, is Scotland willing to abandon the idea of a new referendum, according to London's SNP Parliamentary group's Chair, Robertson. Albeit, this latest attempt to force a "soft" Brexit with Scottish separatism is risky. Although currently 46 percent of the Scots are in favor of independence, a majority, according to polls, is nowhere in sight - and the situation is becoming even more complicated by the fact that the number in favor of remaining in the EU is constantly declining. Two in three Scots either wanted the UK to leave the EU or the EU's powers to be reduced, according to a new opinion poll.[5]

Investment Center in Berlin

Confronted with this situation, Sturgeon is seeking even stronger support from Berlin. At the beginning of March, she met with Germany's Agricultural Minister Christian Schmidt for talks, with Brexit being among the topics. At the beginning of last week, Scotland's Minister of the Economy, Keith Brown visited Berlin and Hamburg to negotiate the expansion of economic relations. Soon, Edinburgh will set up an "Innovation and Investment Center" in Berlin to help reinforce business contacts. In the next few weeks, a Bavarian business delegation led by Bavaria's Minister of the Economy, Ilse Aigner, is expected in Scotland. The expansion of relations is intensifying Scotland's bonds to the EU, economically shoring up a possible secession - and providing greater possibilities for Berlin's influence.

Sensitive Borders

Government advisors in Berlin also see the possibility of obtaining influence using the round about route over Northern Ireland, where, according to a recent analysis by the German Institute for International and Security Affairs (SWP) a "hard" Brexit could have serious consequences, because of the impact it would have on the border between Northern Ireland and the Irish Republic. The permeability of this border is of highest significance for the island's peace process. Although the unhindered circulation of persons between Ireland and Northern Ireland had already been settled in the 1923 Common Travel Area (CTA), this could continue to be maintained even after the Brexit. However, this could eventually pose a problem for the United Kingdom, since these uncontrolled borders could become a gateway for undesirable migration. This could pose a dilemma for London, counteracting a "hard" Brexit. Of course, it is inappropriate to exercise direct influence on Northern Ireland, in other words, in the United Kingdom's domestic affairs. But the Irish Republic is also involved in the negotiations. The EU has a "fundamental interest in protecting the special interests of its member, the Republic of Ireland, in the Brexit negotiations," according to the SWP.[6] The Border between Northern Ireland and Ireland had already been a topic of Chancellor Angela Merkel's negotiations with Ireland's Prime Minister Enda Kenny on July 12, 2016.

Bargaining Chips

To complicate the "hard" Brexit, Berlin is also fomenting contradictions in the United Kingdom on the issue of the post-Brexit right of residence of the nearly three million EU nationals living in the country. Even though no one in the British establishment is putting this right into question, the remaining uncertainty is causing anxiety far beyond those directly concerned and is stirring emotions against the Brexit. Therefore, as a preliminary point, Prime Minster May already asked Angela Merkel to conclude reliable residence regulations for EU citizens living in the UK and for 900,000 British citizens living in EU countries. Chancellor Merkel unequivocally refused, saying she was not prepared to "weaken the bargaining position of the EU 27," according to reports, explicitly making reference to German government circles.[7] In other words, Berlin considers the 900,000 British citizens living on the continent and the three million EU foreigners living in Great Britain to be bargaining chips.

Risky Tactic

Berlin's tactic to foment contradictions in the United Kingdom is risky, because, in essence, for economic and military reasons, Germany is dependent on constructive Brexit regulations. will soon report.

Other reports and background information on Germany's policy toward Brexit can be found here: Backtracking from Brexit.

[1] Jacques Schuster, Daniel Friedrich Sturm: Und zurück bleiben die verwirrten Staaten von Europa. 26.06.2016. See Das Druckmittel Sezession.
[2] Sigmar Gabriel: Egoismus macht Europa kaputt. 02.07.2016.
[3] Sturgeon in Berlin for Brexit talks with German minister. 09.08.2016.
[4] Bayerisch-schottischer Schulterschluss für Europa. 21.09.2016.
[5] Kanishka Singh: Scottish independence support at highest ever levels, survey suggests. Polls find 46% of Scots back separation from UK. 15.03.2017.
[6] Nicolai von Ondarza, Julia Becker: Ein differenzierter Brexit für das Vereinigte Königreich. SWP-Aktuell 11, März 2017.
[7] Oberhaus will Garantien. Frankfurter Allgemeine Zeitung 03.03.2017.