Flemish ports should prepare for the possible independence of Scotland from the United Kingdom, Flemish Minister-President Jan Jambon said on Monday following a meeting in Edinburgh with the Scottish Prime Minister Nicola Sturgeon.
Scottish independence has long been a political can of worms with critics and proponents making their points ever-more vocally. Sturgeon is head of the pro-independence Scottish National Party and hopes for a referendum in 2023. The matter of Scottish independence had already been put to the vote in 2014 when it failed by 55% to 45%.
However, support for leaving the United Kingdom has risen greatly in recent years, most notably driven by the UK’s departure from the the EU – something that just 35% of Scots voted in favour of. Many in Scotland have been angered by the economic difficulties brought on by losing access to the EU’s Single Market, as well as no longer enjoying freedom of movement within the Schengen Area.
Yet despite polls indicating that, were a referendum to be held now, Scotland would likely vote to leave the UK, it is far less certain whether the nation would be allowed to rejoin the EU – particularly in light of the Catalan bid for independence from Spain which sparked significant civil and political unrest both in Spain and across the continent.
EU leaders generally distanced themselves from the divisive affair but it would be highly unlikely that Catalonia would be accepted as an independent state by the EU and even less so that Catalonia could become an EU member independently. To allow Scotland to do so would therefore set a contentious precedent.
Notwithstanding these controversial uncertainties, Jambon cited the increased trade that Scotland rejoining the EU would entail and spoke of Scottish exports that would no longer pass via England (with the complicated customs checks now in force) but “could come directly to Europe by boat.” Jambon highlighted this “enormous opportunity that Antwerp and Zeebrugge should start preparing for,” Belga News Agency reported. He stated that “Our ports should be ready to become the principal trade link for Scotland.”
The Flemish premier is currently making a trip to the UK as a mission to bolster trade entering Belgian ports. This is especially pertinent as the repercussions of the Brexit decision continue to impact EU-UK trade. On the UK side, this has meant stricter customs checks that have interrupted supply chains – particularly for foodstuffs.
But in Belgium, Brexit has brought some economic advantages in the shape of companies moving their operations from the UK to facilitate easier trade on the continent. Flanders has seen a reported 183% jump in UK investment projects in the first six months of 2021, compared to last year. These investments have an estimated value of €2 billion.
Antwerp councillor Annick De Ridder (N-VA) expressed the desire to harness the full economic windfall that Brexit could bring by making Flanders attractive to UK investors: “We believe that there are even more economic opportunities… Just look at all the HGVs that pass through the Channel Tunnel. If they were to instead take a boat to our ports they could declare their cargo six hours in advance and make huge time savings.”