Jersey’s leaders have raised the prospect of linking up with Guernsey to form a confederation of Channel Islands in a break from centuries of rivalry between the fiercely independent neighbours.
The two Crown Dependencies give their allegiance to the British sovereign but are not part of the UK and have no formal ties with each other, despite being located just 40 miles apart in the English Channel.
Frictions date back to the 17th century English civil war, when Jersey was royalist while Guernsey was parliamentarian. Today the pair compete aggressively with each other as offshore financial services centres.
Since the financial crisis and subsequent economic pressures, however, they are finding increasing advantage in a common approach. Public spending cuts triggered by a fall in tax revenues from the finance industry have prompted closer working relations in policy-making and administration.
Ian Gorst, Jersey’s chief minister, said he was a “strong proponent” of deeper co-operation, including “confederated structures”.
Jersey and Guernsey, he said, were already regarded as a single Channel Islands entity by many in the UK, “and when you get further into Europe we’re viewed as the same”.
The two islands have a single representative office in Brussels and last year began holding joint meetings at UK party conferences. Ministers now hold regular cross-island discussions and save money by sharing a data protection officer as well as an airports regulator.
Other areas targeted for co-operation include infrastructure development, energy policy and procurement. “Our two Treasury departments now work more closely than ever,” said Gavin St Pier, Guernsey’s treasury and resources minister.
Sir Philip Bailhache, Jersey’s assistant minister for external affairs, said talks were under way to co-operate on prison services. “We have to provide remand facilities for males, females, young and vulnerable prisoners. There’s tremendous scope for that, if we were able to do some of these things in one island and others on another.”
While admitting a confederation was “down the line”, Mr Gorst said he would like to see a more formal structure to cement decisions that are already being made jointly.
Any body would have an equal number of representatives from each island, he said, and neither island would have control over the other. “If they couldn’t make a decision you’d filter it back down to the island,” said Mr Gorst.
Guernsey was more cautious. Peter Harwood, Guernsey’s chief minister, said relations were “effective, efficient and consistent”. “We must not, however, lose sight of the fact that commercially we still have our own separate and distinct interests,” he said.
One person in Guernsey’s government said the island was “pointing in the same direction” as Jersey on the need for greater co-operation but that confederation was probably “too far, too fast” for the smaller island.
Jersey aims to puts Royal into orbit
For an island measuring 9 by 5 miles, Jersey has sky-high aspirations, writes James Pickford, but they could reach further if its plans for a space programme get off the launch pad.
Within four years the island wants to put its own satellite into orbit. The cost of £150,000, including the launch, would be paid for by private-sector sponsorship.
With the title Spudnik, some might assume the vehicle is a promotional tool for that part of the potato market focused on Jersey Royals.
Instead though, it is an educational initiative aiming to fuel interest in science and technology among students and boost the numbers of technically minded residents.
Ted Ridgway Watt, chief executive of Jersey Digital, the promotional body for the island’s tech sector, came up with the idea. He said the process of design and testing would allow students to hone their scientific knowledge. “It’s all about control systems, space, physics and communications – all transferable knowledge,” he said.
He took his lead from schools initiatives in which students built weather balloons, released them into the atmosphere and tracked their progress using web-based tools. Some have carried eggs aloft; Jersey’s offering will be – a potato.