Last week, the Daily Telegraph reported that Scotland is to miss out on a freeport after the Scottish Government walked out of talks. SNP ministers refused to sign off on the plans unless they were rebranded ‘greenports’ and subject to additional regulation. According to the paper:
“The UK Government saw the proposed changes as cosmetic and as part of an SNP attempt to claim credit for the scheme while unfairly presenting Scottish ports as superior to the eight sites that have already been chosen for England, including Teesside, Plymouth and Liverpool.”
Fair enough. The Government is apparently going to push ahead with a single freeport, and anticipates that with several Scottish ports “desperate” for the new status it will earth the wearisome nationalist refrain that it is imposing policy on Scotland and ‘trampling the devolution settlement’.
But why only one? Under the deal that was being negotiated with the Scottish Government, there were going to be two, with SNP ministers having a joint role in deciding the designation. Is there any reason for British ministers to scale back their ambition for Scotland because the Nationalists won’t cooperate? Just designate two.
Likewise, at present any Scottish freeports will apparently operate at a disadvantage relative to their counterparts in England, because some of the taxes involved are set by Holyrood rather than the Treasury. Perhaps the SNP are hoping that they can use this fact to breathe some life into their malfunctioning grievance machine somewhere down the line.
But again, is there nothing that Rishi Sunak could do about this? The Government has already set a precedent for offsetting higher Scottish taxes when it intervened to protect the incomes of Armed Forces personnel based in Scotland. Would it be so difficult for the Treasury to cut those taxes under its control to a level where the overall tax rate in Scottish freeports matched that of those in England?
This battle is yet more evidence of what ought to be obvious to everyone, but apparently isn’t: the separatists are not good-faith partners in the United Kingdom. They don’t want this country to work, and making the effective operation of the British State contingent on their approval is terrible policy. The best response to the SNP walking out is not backing down, but doubling down, on positive, pro-active, British policy in Scotland.
Biden’s ‘special relationship’ isn’t with us
Boris Johnson’s visit to Joe Biden this week also served as a reminder of another uncomfortable truth: that the United States does have a ‘special relationship’, but it is with the Republic of Ireland.
One can’t help but sympathise with George Eustice, who suggested that the President might not “fully appreciate” the nuances involved, even if Boris Johnson had to row back from the remarks. It would be quite understandable, for there is no shortage of hysterical language about what is at its heart a quite technical trade dispute.
It is also worth remembering, in light of Biden’s strong concerns about avoiding a “closed border” between Northern Ireland and the Republic, that doing so is not an obligation under the Belfast Agreement. The US is not, therefore, simply defending a flawed but widely venerated peace agreement, but championing Irish nationalism’s policy objectives, as it has so often in the past.
So far, the Government seems to be holding firm, with David Frost warning the European Union not to under-estimate the UK’s resolve. But the way both Washington and Brussels have handled the Ulster issue illustrates why ‘global Britain’ needs to be sufficiently strong, and sufficiently prosperous, to depend upon neither of them.