Spirit of Rippon is required
GIVEN what has gone before, it is still hard to believe that the UK will leave the EU in a week.
All the doubt has gone, and with it much of the tension that had built up like clouds of steam over the Taal volcano.
Of course, no matter whether Big Ben bongs for real or through loud speakers on Friday night, there is still much work to do and a trade deal to be struck.
But with the withdrawal agreement legislation yesterday passing through Parliament without amendment and awaiting royal assent there is nothing now, bar a moment of madness by the EU, that can stop the divorce going through.
Like the rest of the ‘British family’, the Crown Dependencies will breathe a sigh of relief that the country is moving out of Brexit limbo after three-and-a-half years of hell, but that must be tinged with concern about what lies ahead.
For, from the first of next month, Protocol 3 is living on borrowed time. The islands’ comfortable constitutional niche, from which it has carved out such a successful living since January 1972, will have a year to run.
It is worth remembering at this stage how hard-won Protocol 3 to the Treaty of Accession was. The islands’ unique position as neither a member state nor an associate member of the European Community allowed them to retain fiscal autonomy.
We take it for granted now but, in 1967, when the UK first looked set to join the European Economic Community, as it was known, there was little chance that the Treaty of Rome would be modified to allow the islands a limited connection with Europe.
It was feared that the Crown Dependencies had two choices: to become part of the EEC or to seek independence.
Thankfully, the moment of drama passed. The UK’s initial bid to join the EEC was rejected and four years went by before the government’s chief negotiator, Geoffrey Rippon, secured the islands their special place.
Over the coming months some of the Brexit tension that has dissipated since the UK election may return.
The islands have to hope that the spirit of Rippon lives on.