Brexit: Greenland and Faroes point way to UK solution

Danish link with old territories shows how UK could accommodate Scotland and North

The town of Ilulissat in Greenland: the Faroes secured an opt-out from what was then the EEC when Denmark joined in 1973 and Greenland followed by leaving in 1985. Photograph: Uriel Sinai/Getty

The town of Ilulissat in Greenland: the Faroes secured an opt-out from what was then the EEC when Denmark joined in 1973 and Greenland followed by leaving in 1985. Photograph: Uriel Sinai/Getty

 

There is a little-discussed Danish quirk of the European Union, which goes like this: the Kingdom of Denmark is a member of the EU. Greenland and the Faroe Islands are self-governing countries within the Kingdom of Denmark. Greenland and the Faroe Islands are not members of the EU.

This is largely a matter of fish. Both countries have historically depended heavily on the fisheries, and the prospect of uncontrolled Spanish, Portuguese or (insert Atlantic-coastal EU country here) trawlers off their coasts was too much to bear. Ireland, of course, knows a thing or two about that. Thus the Faroes secured an opt-out from what was then the EEC when Denmark joined in 1973. Greenland followed by leaving in 1985.

Faroese and Greenlanders carry their own passports: they bear the Danish crown, but read “Føroyar” or “Kalaallit Nunaat” above “Danmark.” In this way they look like the passports that the UK issues to residents of the Isle of Man or the Channel Islands. Unlike those, though, the Greenlandic or Faroese documents are not EU passports.

EU flexibility

ScotlandNorthern Ireland

My suggestion, despite the exotic northern locales involved, is born of pragmatism. The will of the people of Northern Ireland and of Scotland to stay in the European Union is a democratically expressed certainty. The best way to ensure this expression is honoured is to deal with it directly, not to attach it to separate questions about independence or reunification. Both the EU (via Greenland and the Faroes) and the UK (via the Isle of Man or the Channel Islands) have a track record of dealing with this kind of variability.

Make it work

Jerry White is Canada research chair in European studies at Dalhousie University in Nova Scotia

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