On the island where the milk flows and money grows, a quiet revolution is being fomented

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The Independent Online

On the island of Jersey the face of rebellion has deep, dark eyes, big brown ears and the ability to produce 35 litres of rich, creamy milk every day. It might even be named Advancing Royal Bonnet II.

On the island of Jersey the face of rebellion has deep, dark eyes, big brown ears and the ability to produce 35 litres of rich, creamy milk every day. It might even be named Advancing Royal Bonnet II.

Pedigree Jersey cows are emerging as symbols of what is the least likely breakaway movement in Europe. This island of milk and money, full of prime dairy herds and trust-fund beneficiaries, is now considering independence from Britain.

Talk of freedom among the 90,000 or so residents of the island, which measures just nine miles by five, is nothing new. In the 800 years since Jersey was ceded to Britain by Normandy, there have been regular, if limited, calls for the island to examine its semi-autonomous status.

But in recent weeks, the debate has taken on added urgency because of a call for the island to hold its first referendum on independence. While the island's parliament, the States, has yet to agree to the referendum, it would be a unique event.

No one even knows how it would be organised. The move for such a referendum goes to a vote next month. After that, the island could well be set for the political battle of its long life.

The formal request made to the island's Bailiff - Jersey, like Guernsey, is technically a bailiwick and a dependency of the Crown, but not part of the UK - came from Senator Paul Le Claire, one of the island's more outspoken politicians.

His request was made largely in response to EU plans to dismantle the low-tax regimes that have made the Channel Islands among the richest financial centres in Europe.

Financial services account for up to 70 per cent of Jersey's income and there is widespread concern that EU pressure on the Chancellor, Gordon Brown, to force tax arrangements into line with the rest of Europe would destroy an industry that has overtaken tourism and agriculture as the leading provider of wealth.

"Why should we show allegiance to a nation that does not really care for our future?" asked Mr Le Claire, a former Royal Marine and closeprotection bodyguard who plays the guitar and supported Art Garfunkel when he recently performed on the island.

"The Government has not shown any willingness to stand up for Jersey. If it continues to ignore our concerns, then independence has got to be considered. To discuss this now is only proper. It is important that we have the debate. I think there is too much of an attitude of, 'Let's not rock the boat'.

"I don't feel independence is impossible and we should be looking seriously at it. We elected politicians have a duty to seek the opinions and inform the electorate."

Perhaps naturally enough on an island noted for its relative conservatism - homosexuality was legalised here only in 1990 - Mr Le Claire's comments have caused something of a stir.

One of the island's most senior politicians, Senator Frank Walker, accused him of going "off in his normal loose cannon way, which is a shame". Another, Senator Christopher Lakeman, has challenged Mr Le Claire to a public debate and has criticised him for airing views in the "improper forum" of the national media.

But among the tidy streets of the capital, St Helier - home to the 74 offshore banks that hold about £350bn in trusts and accounts - and along the high-hedged lanes spread across the island, it seems Mr Le Claire may have struck a nerve.

His calls to examine a plan for independence, possibly in a federation with Guernsey and the Isle of Man, have received backing from a variety of high-profile figures, including the banker Sir Julian Hodge.

One of Mr Le Claire's less likely supporters is Karen Stevens, a smartly dressed housewife "with no background in farming" who has launched the Save the Jersey Cow campaign.

The famous cows are now under threat from Home Office plans to investigate an anomaly that allows only Jersey cows on the island and bans imports of other, cheaper milk.

"I am not a revolutionary by nature," said Mrs Stevens, whose immaculate drawing room displays photographs of a stern-looking Winston Churchill and a smiling Baroness Thatcher. "Oh, I thought she was wonderful ... but I don't want to see the farming community here devastated in the same way as in England," she said.

"I don't want independence. I believe we should stick with the Crown. But if the UK decides to adopt the single currency, it would no longer be a sovereign nation. I am so totally opposed to the EU that I would say, 'Let's go independent'. It would be the last straw."

Many dairy farmers see independence as the last-gasp option for their survival. Peter Lee - he of the delightfully named cows that munch the sweet grass overlooking the curving St Aubin's Bay - said: "I don't think there is a strong feeling for independence but it may get to the point where it is the only option. Even Paul Le Claire says we have a long way to go [before independence] but it may be that we might have to."

There is certainly a growing sense that Jersey could, if it had to, manage by itself. The island has its own passports, its own currency, legal system, language (a Norman patois called Jersey French) and its own car registration plates.

It also has plenty of cows and milk. And if ever a Jersey Liberation Front springs into revolutionary life, most likely it will not go thirsty.