With Brexit looming, what lies ahead for Sealand – the world’s smallest micronation?
As Britain prepares for its official exit from the European Union’s single market and customs union on Friday, questions are now being asked of what this could spell for another island nation in the British Isles with longstanding issues over sovereignty.
Situated little more than six miles off the coast of Felixstowe, in Suffolk, and around 20 miles off the coast of Dunkirk, in France, Sealand’s battle for autonomy and international recognition began in 1966 when former pirate radio DJ Roy Bates declared a disused World War 2 sea fort, Roughs Tower, his own independent principality – complete with its own passports, postage stamps and flag.
Following years of back and forth with the UK Government, it was decided that the ‘world’s smallest micro nation’ fell outside of British jurisdiction, but despite not being part of Britain, the country made entirely of concrete and steel is still yet to be officially recognised by any other nations.
Leading up to the referendum in 2016, Sealand – which is not a member of the EU –put its support behind the Remain campaign, with Bates’ grandson Liam telling Buzzfeed News in 2015 that Britain needed to pull together with its European partners to deal with the rise of Asian superpowers.
"From our point of view, the UK would be doing the right thing to stay in Europe," said Liam.
"It's worked well for them over the years, socially and economically, and it's a time for solidarity – especially with the challenges facing Europe with the rise of Asia."
With an apparent fondness for the EU, and an eagerness to be recognised on the international stage, one might suspect that Sealand could seek membership itself following Britain’s departure, but Liam insisted that this was not the case.
Rather, he suggested that Sealand’s relationship with Brussells should be similar to that of other European micronations such as Liechtenstein; not a member state, but a member of the European Economic Area, allowing them access to the EU Single Market.
"For us, Europe isn't an option," he said.
"Our position on the international scene is sort of more low-key than the UK's, and it wouldn't suit our purposes economically.
"For us to engage in the international community we have to find different avenues – Lichtenstein, the Isle of Man, and so on."
It is worth noting that Sealand – which is the size of two tennis courts and at its busiest boasts a population of less than 50 – does not manufacture any goods or have any pre-existing trade agreements with any other countries.
It does, however, have its own currency, the Sealand Dollar, and Liam added that there was no ambition to switch over to the euro any time soon.
"We'd want to shy away from the euro," said Liam.
"There's such a disillusion surrounding Europe with the crisis surrounding the euro and European nations being dragged down by each other.”
Following the referendum, Sealand's phone lines were swamped with unhappy Remain-supporting Brits looking to register their discontent for the result by applying for citizenship.
In response to the surge of hopeful citizens, Paddy’s son and Liam’s father, Michael Bates, told the Daily Mail that the island could one day have the capacity to house ‘hundreds’ of people.
“We want other people living there, hundreds,” he said.
“It is pretty much the only place in Europe where they could enjoy semi-autonomy.
“And then it is just a helicopter ride away from London where you can enjoy the weekend.”
The Principality of Sealand did not respond when approached for comment about the latest developments in the Brexit saga, but if past comments are anything to go by, it appears this small country with big ambitions will be looking to make the most of Britain’s departure from the European Union in any way that it can.