Scotland/England Maritime Boundaries 93

According to existing Westminster legislation, English waters stretch at their North Easterly point to 56 degrees 36 minutes north – that is over 100 miles North of the border at Berwick, and North of Dundee.

In 1999 Tony Blair, abetted by the Scottish traitor Donald Dewar, redrew the existing English/Scottish maritime boundary to annex 6,000 square miles of Scottish waters to England, including the Argyll field and six other major oilfields. The idea was specifically to disadvantage Scotland’s case for independence.

The pre-1999 border was already very favourable to England. In 1994, while I was Head of the Maritime Section of the Foreign and Commonwealth Office, I had already queried whether it was too favourable to England. I little anticipated that five years later Blair would push it seventy miles North!!

I should explain that I was the Alternate Head of the UK Delegation to the UN Convention on the Law of the Sea, and was number 2 on the UK team that negotiated the UK/Ireland, UK/Denmark (Shetland/Faeroes), UK/Belgium, and Channel Islands/France maritime boundaries, as well as a number of British Dependent Territories boundaries. There are very few people in the World – single figures – who have more experience of actual maritime boundary negotiation than me.

The UK’s other maritime boundaries are based on what is known formally in international law as the modified equidistance principle. The England/Scotland border was of course imposed, not negotiated. It is my cold, professional opinion that this border lies outside the range of feasible solutions that could be obtained by genuine negotiation, arbitration or judgement.

It ignores a number of acknowledged precepts in boundary resolutions, most important of which is how to deal with an inverted right angle coastline, as the Scottish coastline is from Elgin to Berwick, with the angle point around Edinburgh. It also fails adequately to close the Forth and Tay estuaries with baselines – by stark contrast to the massive baselines the UK used across the Thames and Stour.

It is essential that Scotland is not conned into accepting the existing England Scotland maritime boundary as a precondition of any independence referendum. This boundary must be subject to negotiation between equal nations post independence, and in my opinion is most likely to end with referral to the International Court of Justice. I have no doubt the outcome would be a very great deal better for Scotland than the Blair-Dewar line, which would cost Scotland billions.

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93 thoughts on “Scotland/England Maritime Boundaries

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  • CalumCarr

    There will be many lies thrown from Westminster in the run-up to the referendum: we must take them apart. But the mis-deeds of the past must also be shown for what they are.

    Thanks for this, Craig.

    • Dan Hardy

      There’s a lie right here in this blog. According to his own Bio on this site, Craig was NOT ‘Head of the Maritime Section of the Foreign and Commonwealth Office’ in 1994. Not for at least two years before then actually.

  • willyrobinson

    This blog is always interesting. It’s a pity the graphic at the end of the pdf you link to is so poor, though it’s perhaps telling that it doesn’t show the land border between England and Scotland. Any chance of a better image?

  • Guest

    “Until 410 million years ago, the area of land now recognised as Scotland was separated from England by an ocean wider than the present-day North Atlantic – the Iapetus Ocean. When the two halves of Britain, which were part of separate larger continental land masses, began to drift towards each other, so the Iapetus Ocean began to close inexorably. The seaway between the converging continents narrowed until they collided and mountains were squeezed up in place of the vanished ocean. The two ancient continents, originally on opposite sides of the vast ocean, were now joined along a line known as the Iapetus Suture which runs almost parallel to Hadrian’s Wall.”

  • craig Post author

    Hi Willy,

    Have been looking for a better graphic with no luck so far. Extending out to sea the line of the land border as it reaches the coast seems to be a prime part of the rationale behing this boundary, though that is not normally an important factor.

    It is also worth bearing in mind that a decade of opinion poll evidence shows consistently that the people of Berwick council district would want to join Scotland. That actually makes a big difference to the maritime border.

  • havantaclu

    We have a track record for imposing boundaries without consultation or representation, going back to the Empire. And there are still disputes (often not acknowledged until the relevant countries’ independence) to be settled – look at the border between Southern Sudan and Kenya. So I’m not surprised at this.

    After all, Scotland is the classic case of internal colonisation. With Wales just behind – and wait until the Welsh start demanding payment for all that lovely Welsh water!

  • Ian Hamilton

    I am glad this matter has been raised and by such an authoritative figure.

    My recollection is that the Blair/Dewar Axis did this by Order in Council while parliament was in recess. It is of very doubtful legality and the boundary will have to be negotiated on independence.

    They may have slipped up. My recollection is that crime on the rigs was tried in Selkirk Sheriff Court. I don’t think they changed this. Indeed I don’t thnk they could have changed this by Order in Council. The Border Sheriff Courts may still have jurisdiction over this part of the North Sea. Does anyone know? I don’t.

    Ian Hamilton

  • John Goss

    Perhaps Scots can understand how the Argentinians felt about the Malvinas, which prior to Thatcher’s exuberantly costly war, in all senses of the word costly, in order to protect islands 7,000 miles away which before the war everybody thought were in Scotland!

  • MJ

    “It is also worth bearing in mind that a decade of opinion poll evidence shows consistently that the people of Berwick council district would want to join Scotland. That actually makes a big difference to the maritime border”
    It might, were it not for the fact that Berwick is in England and won’t be included in a referendum.
    Which raises another issue. If the referendum result showed that there was a clear majority of Scots in the bordering Lowlands who voted to remain in the UK, would they be able to do so, thus necessitating a redrawing of boundaries both maritime and on land?

  • Guest

    John Goss, thanks for bringing that up. The scots should also be aware that by going for “independence” they MAY lose any claims to the vast antarctica mineral resources that may lie beneath the ice?. Lets face it, the argentinians ain`t going to get the islands back with that prize at stake!. I don`t approve of any of what is going on, I view us all scots/english/argentinians as being just humans beings, living on one world, we should not be doing all these terrible things to each other. I only mention all this as sadly it is the reality.

  • craig Post author

    MJ There is no evidence of a particularly strong attachment to the UK in the Borders. But I have no problem with the idea of border adjustments in either direction. Long overdue in Ireland/Northern Ireland too.

  • banquo

    In your experience as an arbitrator/negotiator in these types of disputes where would you recommend the boundary be drawn?

  • craig Post author


    That is a long discussion – there are numerous precedents from all over the world. The Cameroon/Nigeria determination by the International Court of Justice, and the Gulf of Maine US/Canada judgement also by the ICJ, are perhaps particularly relevant in a number of ways.

    Frankly I could draw a line on a map which I think its the fairest boundary, and I can draw a line on a map which I think should be Scotland’s opening position in a negotiation or court case. The two would not be the same. But either would be very very far from the current Westminster imposed boundary. The key thing now is to repudiate that boundary, and then go for negotiation or court, rather than propose your exact alternative now.

  • OldMark

    Given that Blair & Dewar are both Scots, their redefinition of the border in 1999 seems very fair to me.

    As far as North Sea maritime borders go, the principle that the dividing line goes out to sea following the angle of the land border seems pretty well established- looks at how the German slice of the North Sea follows the angles of the Dutch/German & German/Danish borders respectively-

    Much grating & knashing of teeth north of the border this morning !

  • Davie Park

    The last 5 feet of the border heads south east at an 85 degree angle. Does this mean Scotland gets the Isle of Dogs?

  • craig Post author


    Just not true. Ther German/Danish North Sea maritime border breaks at quite an angle from the land border.

  • DonnyDarko

    Thanks for that Craig.
    I had been wondering.

    Was this similar to Blairs dirty deeds in the desert with Ghadafi ?
    They’ve drawn a ridiculous border where the water off St Andrews is actually English.
    Apart from the reasons behind the change which you’ve given and are most plausible, what were the reasons for changing boundaries when we are all one Kingdom ? makes no sense ! Suddenly Scottish fisherman have no say what happens in the waters they fish, and on it goes till you get to oil.
    Good old England !! You can always rely on them to play fair, support the underdog and above all be Gentlemen !

  • marcus

    On a comedy note I’d leave Berwick well alone if I were you – they’re still at war with Russia! Ho ho ho. ;-p

  • Mary

    Take the war criminal with the bloodied hands out to sea in a helicopter to the stolen area and drop him out in the style of the Pinochet gangs who did the same to opponents of that nasty regime. Then he can swim for it.

    Sky News have just had Lord Bell of Bell Pottinger on supporting Cameron. Darling wishes to see a referendum soon.
    Bell Wikipedia In December 2006 Lord Bell successfully lobbied on behalf of the Saudi government to discontinue the Serious Fraud Office investigation into alleged bribes in the Al Yamamah arms deal. Lord Bell has also performed public relations work for the authoritarian government of Belarus and for the Pinochet Foundation (Fundación Pinochet).

    I see the Bell Pottinger connection to oil and gas here.

    Oil & Gas UK appoints Bell Pottinger Public Affairs
    1 November 2011

    Oil & Gas UK, the industry representative for offshore oil and gas, has appointed Bell Pottinger Public Affairs to provide public affairs counsel.
    The team will be led by Claire Jakobsson, Director of the Energy Unit at Bell Pottinger Public Affairs. Claire Jakobsson said: “We are delighted to be working with Oil & Gas UK. There is a huge amount going on in this sector. The debate on the future role of oil and gas in the energy mix and the industry’s contribution to the UK economy continues to be prevalent. We want to help ensure that the voice of the offshore oil and gas industry is heard.”
    Trisha O’Reilly, Director of Communications at Oil & Gas UK, commented:
    “Oil & Gas UK works closely with its members and the Government on a range of issues that have an impact on the activities of the industry and its future success, and we look forward to working with Bell Pottinger to help us deepen and extend the political debate”.

  • banquo

    ^Excellent document. Thanks. It shows the complexity of the argument. Presumably the Scots had input into the Blair government decision?

  • Mark Golding - Children of Iraq

    Scotland has also been ‘conned’ in another way if we take a hard look at the UK oil industry, arguably the most value added industry in Scotland at one time. The ‘Barnett Formula’ might have benefited the Scottish purse in Treasury allocations however the absurd asymmetry of the UK/Scottish oil industry prevented the evolution of a powerful cluster of energy administration and professional services within main Scottish towns such as Aberdeen, Edinburgh, Glasgow and Dundee.
    Such important expertise would have given Scotland a powerful voice in the global economy. Scotland I believe may have argued for a better more intelligent perspective towards mediation and renewed energy negotiations with the Middle East and even Iran instead of the illusionary wishes and demands of the US Neo-Cons and British subservience.
    As an example the recent energy negotiations in Iraq and Dubai and their legal implications involved expertise from Washington and London. Risking shouts of ‘flip-flopping’ my faith resides in Scottish justice in such matters and future relationships between the West, Russia, China and Iran will certainly in my opinion benefit from an independent Scotland.

  • Ed L

    Donald Dewar of the huge privatized portfolio – and how much of a tosser would you need to be in order to be cuckolded by Derry Irvine.

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