How a 'reverse Greenland' could help Scotland avoid any Brexit fallout

An option proposed by Scotland's first minister could keep the country effectively a part of the European Union while also keeping its ties to Britain. 

Scott Heppell/Reuters
Union, Scottish Soltaire and European Union flags outside of Scottish Parliament in Edinburgh. Scottish First Minister Nicola Sturgeon met with European Union officials to discuss how Scotland can negotiate its own terms for Brexit.

With Brexit, Scotland might just be able to have its cake and eat it too.

Its first minister, Nicola Sturgeon, is interested in the country both effectively remaining a member of the European Union and a part of Britain, dubbed the “reverse Greenland” option, according to Reuters. Ms. Sturgeon reportedly brainstormed the option during meetings with the EU executive branch in Brussels Wednesday.

As Scotland overwhelming rejected Brexit, its vote, out of sync with England’s vote to “Leave,” has resurfaced questions about Scottish autonomy and even independence. As Britain attempts to calm its northern neighbor’s angst, with even the Queen appealing Edinburgh to “stay calm,” Ms. Sturgeon’s meetings in the European Union’s capital of Brussels indicate Scotland might have its own seat at the negotiations table for Britain’s departure from the politico-economic bloc. And with it, Scotland would have the ability to determine how Brexit can best serve it.  

Strugeon said she simply wanted “all of the options for Scotland.”

"We come at it from the starting point of protecting Scotland’s interests,” she told reporters in Brussels. “We don’t come at it from the starting point of independence.”   

In contrast to England and Wales, Scotland and Northern Ireland voted against Brexit in the June 23 referendum: 62 percent of Scotland said they wished to remain in the EU, while 56 percent of Northern Ireland said the same.  

For Scotland, the “reverse Greenland” option might see it assume Britain’s EU membership, while it continues to be a part of the United Kingdom. Britain, meanwhile, would exit from the EU while Scotland, Northern Ireland, and Gibraltar would remain a part of it. Greenland, a territory of Denmark, pulled out of the EU in the 1980s, even though Denmark remained in the bloc.

How the “reverse Greenland” option would be realized remains unclear, wrote the BBC’s Scotland correspondent Glenn Campbell, in an analysis of different options for the country. Would the pound sterling remain the country’s currency? Would it and its citizens have unrestricted market and travel access to Britain?  

If the EU denies Scotland negotiating its own terms for Brexit, the country would be subject to the arrangement Britain and the EU agree on.

If Britain completely breaks from the bloc, Scotland stands to lose 200 million pounds ($264 million) in EU funding, which includes funding to create jobs, boost training, and develop transport projects and green energy, according to The Scotsman.  

In spite of the benefits the “reverse Greenland” option could bring Scotland, current and former EU officials have criticized it for its impracticality and the shockwaves it could send throughout Europe. The option is “silly,” said David Smith, who was Britain’s justice on the EU’s top court, and is a member of an advisory panel Sturgeon created to protect Scotland’s interests following the Brexit vote. In other arrangements similar to the one Sturgeon floated around, it is the main state, not the minority region, that is outside the EU. And as Smith pointed out, Scotland has 100 times the population of Greenland, and it would be England, 10 times bigger again, that was playing “Greenland” to Scotland’s “Denmark.”

The Spanish prime minister slammed the idea too, for fear of the effect it would have on Catalan separatists.

EU, meanwhile, officially maintains Scotland must negotiate with Britain, not it. 

"Scotland is a part of the UK," a spokesman for the European Commission said. "All parts of the UK should sort out what they want to do," he added, calling the options "speculation.”

Nevertheless, Sturgeon’s actions have opened up discussions, both in the EU and within Britain, for different ways her country can determine its own future. The EU could grant Scotland other special arrangements, including receiving economic or funding benefits members nations receive. Officials and experts have said “reverse Greenland” would be one of the most extreme options for Scotland. 

The most drastic is perhaps Scotland seceding from Britain, which Sturgeon said is again on the table. Scotland voted against independence in 2014 because it wanted to continue to receive the benefits of Britain's EU membership. The EU wouldn't guarantee Scotland them otherwise. With the Brexit vote running contrary to that, Sturgeon and others have said a second referendum could lead to a different result. 

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