The Chief Minister has told a Westminster committee that the Isle of Man sustains a healthy relationship with the British gov that goes beyond the formal relationship with the Ministry of Justice.
The MoJ, led by Robert Buckland MP, is the department responsible for affairs relating to the Crown Dependencies of Jersey, Guernsey and the Isle of Man.
Howard Quayle attended the hearing alongside Ian Gorst, Jersey’s Minister for External Relations and Jonathan Le Tocq, Guernsey’s Minister for External Relations and Constitutional Affairs. He told the Justice Committee, chaired by Sir Bob Neill MP, that the island’s relationship with the MoJ is ‘positive and there is a good level of access at official and political level’.
The Chief said the MoJ is ‘always there when we need them’ and has ‘stood back a little’ to allow the island’s relationship with other Whitehall departments to grow, particularly during Brexit and Covid. He said: ‘We feel that across Whitehall, there is now a better understanding of the Crown Dependencies than there had been in the past.’
During his opening remarks, the Chief Minister said that the island is keen to take advantage of the opportunities of Brexit and that the development of the relationship between the island and Westminster is part of this. He said: ‘I am very eager for the Isle of Man to be included in the UK’s free trade agreements and that they are open for us to participate in, especially for the first time, in services.’
While this is Mr Quayle’s final official involvement with the committee, as he is of course hanging up his hat in the coming weeks, he indicated that he expects the next administration to continue to grow the political relationship between the UK and the Isle of Man.
Sir Bob later said that there is a danger of the CDs being ‘far down the agenda’ for UK departments and asked what role his committee can play in ensuring that doesn’t happen. Mr Quayle replied that ensuring that MoJ is properly resourced with people in contact with the CDs regularly. He added: ‘They’re not going to win every battle on our behalf, we don’t doubt that for one minute. But maybe against some of the bigger departments, they’re not going to win every time but we know they do their utmost so ensuring they are properly resourced is key.’
The Chief also praised the UK for its level of engagement with the CDs, particularly during the Brexit negotiations when it secured fishing rights and regulations for the Manx waters.
We’re Not the Same
Sir Bob also asked about whether the UK gov recognises the differences between the CDs instead of treating all of us as one issue. Mr Quayle told him that the situation is ‘improving’ and added: ‘The ability to go to the like of DIT (Dept of International Trade), DEFRA (Environment, Food and Rural Affairs), is enabling us to explain. Going to DHSC for example, as the Isle of Man has a reciprocal health agreement with the UK, that greater freedom to meet the departments and explain the island’s situation is certainly improving the situation. I still think there is a significant lack of knowledge in certain areas but that has really improved in recent times.’
Mr Quayle said that those gaps of knowledge are generally in areas around constitutional areas and VAT agreements above many others.
Senator Ian Gorst added that while the CDs do have different goals and objectives at times, the three governments have a good record of putting a united position in front of the UK gov to achieve the best possible outcomes for all islanders. Deputy Le Tocq agreed with this assessment and said the relationship between the CDs has grown in the last two decades. He outlined that when he first entered politics, there was little discussion between Jersey and Guernsey and even less with the Isle of Man, something which has changed significantly in recent years.
You can watch the full committee hearing here.