A new re­la­tion­ship for Bri­tish ter­ri­to­ries

Jamaica Gleaner - - BUSINESS - David Jes­sop is a con­sul­tant to the Caribbean Coun­cil. david.jes­sop@ caribbean-coun­cil.org

WHILE MOST of the world has been fo­cused on the out­come of the US pres­i­den­tial elec­tions, other events of longterm im­por­tance to the re­gion have been tak­ing place.

Of these, one of the more sig­nif­i­cant re­lates to the re­la­tion­ship be­tween the United King­dom and its over­seas ter­ri­to­ries, which could even­tu­ally be­come sub­ject to change.

Al­though, for a while now, some, like the Bri­tish Vir­gin Is­lands, have been sig­nalling that they want con­sti­tu­tional ad­vance and are weigh­ing the mer­its of self-de­ter­mi­na­tion — about which more later — it is clear that all of Bri­tain’s Over­seas Ter­ri­to­ries have found the Bri­tish vote to leave the Euro­pean Union, at the very

least chal­leng­ing, and for some po­ten­tially game chang­ing.

In part, this re­flects the wider evo­lu­tion of their re­la­tion­ship with London.

While the UK con­tin­ues to re­tain over­all re­spon­si­bil­ity for

sovereignty in all of its ter­ri­to­ries, and to a greater or lesser ex­tent good gov­er­nance, Bri­tain’s role has, in re­cent years, be­come of sig­nif­i­cantly less economic and demo­cratic rel­e­vance.

This is par­tic­u­larly the case in na­tions with advanced con­sti­tu­tions, vi­able political sys­tems, and in­sti­tu­tions and gov­ern­ments that have cre­ated a much higher stan­dard of liv­ing than

ex­ists in many de­vel­oped na­tions.

Cay­man Is­lands sta­tis­tics in­di­cate, for ex­am­ple, a per capita GDP in­come of US$58,430 in 2014, while BVI stood at US$43,200 in 2010, ac­cord­ing to the US gov­ern­ment.

The mat­ter is fur­ther com­pounded by the fact that for some ter­ri­to­ries, their di­a­logue with Europe, in con­junc­tion with the UK, has be­come vi­tal in devel­op­men­tal and reg­u­la­tory terms and could sim­ply evap­o­rate if a future re­la­tion­ship is not sat­is­fac­to­rily es­tab­lished with the EU27 be­fore Bri­tain for­mally leaves the Euro­pean Union.

Al­though the joint com­mu­niqué is­sued af­ter the re­cent 2016 Over­seas Ter­ri­to­ries Joint Min­is­te­rial Coun­cil Meet­ing — the JMC — did its best to be diplo­matic in this re­spect, in re­al­ity, it pa­pered over a grow­ing num­ber of political cracks in the re­la­tion­ship be­ing brought about by Brexit and chang­ing national cir­cum­stances.

Bri­tain, in the face of mul­ti­ple ques­tions from Over­seas Ter­ri­to­ries lead­ers at­tend­ing the JMC, in a ma­jor con­ces­sion, agreed to hold a spe­cial coun­cil meet­ing with its Over­seas Ter­ri­to­ries on Brexit be­fore it trig­gers Ar­ti­cle 50 of the Euro­pean Treaty and be­gins the process of leav­ing the EU.

Ac­cord­ing to the joint com­mu­niqué, this Coun­cil on Euro­pean Ne­go­ti­a­tions will be held in the first quar­ter of 2017. It also said that the UK “com­mit­ted fully to in­volve” the Over­seas Ter­ri­to­ries as Bri­tain pre­pares to leave the EU.

The an­nounce­ment fol­lows strong rep­re­sen­ta­tions by the UK’s Over­seas Ter­ri­to­ries about the need to be fully con­sulted and for the UK to pro­vide an­swers on a com­plex range of ques­tions about the is­sues likely to arise when the UK leaves the EU.

These in­clude mat­ters that touch on the le­gal­ity of the ref­er­en­dum de­ci­sion as far as the Over­seas Ter­ri­to­ries are con­cerned, is­sues re­lat­ing to future sovereignty, con­sti­tu­tional change, de­vel­op­ment as­sis­tance, free move­ment, and fi­nan­cial ser­vices reg­u­la­tion, as well as ju­di­cial is­sues re­lat­ing to hu­man rights, en­vi­ron­men­tal reg­u­la­tions, and a plethora of tech­ni­cal is­sues that will arise in future, in­clud­ing the ter­ri­to­ries’ future re­la­tion­ship with the EU27.

Ad­dress­ing some of these is­sues, the joint com­mu­niqué said,“The UK gov­ern­ment is clear that the ref­er­en­dum result does not change the UK Gov­ern­ment’s po­si­tion on sovereignty over the ter­ri­to­ries”.

It also “reaf­firmed that while the UK re­mains a mem­ber of the EU, cur­rent EU fund­ing ar­range­ments con­tinue un­changed” and that in the case of EU funds cov­ered by as­sur­ances from the UK Trea­sury, such guar­an­tees would con­tinue. It also pro­vided as­sur­ances that the UK would “take the pri­or­i­ties of the Over­seas Ter­ri­to­ries into ac­count” as it es­tab­lished future trade and in­vest­ment ar­range­ments with the wider world, and would “ex­plore the in­clu­sion of Over­seas Ter­ri­to­ries in future UK bi­lat­eral in­vest­ment treaties”.

Al­though the lan­guage went to­wards ad­dress­ing cer­tain con­cerns, ac­cord­ing to some Over­seas Ter­ri­tory heads, the in­abil­ity of the UK to be able to pro­vide de­tailed an­swers and as­sur­ances to the many com­plex ques­tions they posed, re­mains a mat­ter of deep con­cern, re­quir­ing res­o­lu­tion be­fore the UK trig­gers its de­ci­sion to leave the EU.

For this rea­son, the man­ner in which the Over­seas Ter­ri­to­ries will be treated in re­la­tion to Brexit is likely, in its own way, to be as po­lit­i­cally and con­sti­tu­tion­ally sig­nif­i­cant as the other chal­lenges that the UK gov­ern­ment is hav­ing to ad­dress in re­la­tion to Scot­land and other de­volved ad­min­is­tra­tions.

At present, the in­ten­tion of all ter­ri­to­ries is to re­main part of the UK fam­ily, but it is not hard to see how, with­out the right safe­guards and re­la­tion­ships with both the EU27 and

London, Brexit may test the UK’s ties with some of its Over­seas Ter­ri­to­ries to the limit.

The Premier of the Bri­tish Vir­gin Is­lands, Dr Or­lando Smith, who is also the cur­rent pres­i­dent of the UK Over­seas Ter­ri­to­ries As­so­ci­a­tion Political Coun­cil, has, there­fore, urged the UK to find a way to more closely en­gage the in­ter­na­tional role played by the ter­ri­to­ries and the Bri­tish econ­omy. He has also ar­gued that as the UK re­aligns its re­la­tion­ships glob­ally, it should see the pos­i­tive role that the Over­seas Ter­ri­to­ries can play, for ex­am­ple in re­la­tion to the City of London.

All of which sug­gests that if the UK can­not ad­dress sat­is­fac­to­rily the many ques­tions raised and de­ter­mine how in future, the Over­seas Ter­ri­to­ries are to re­late to the EU27, the

pres­sure from some for a more advanced con­sti­tu­tional re­la­tion­ship with London, and a fur­ther re­duc­tion in the UK’s pow­ers, is likely to grow.

The im­pli­ca­tion is that for some Over­seas Ter­ri­to­ries, Brexit and con­sti­tu­tional ad­vance­ment could, there­fore, be­come in­ex­tri­ca­bly linked.

Whether this even­tu­ally leads, sub­ject to the wishes of elec­torates, to some­thing close to full sep­a­ra­tion or in­de­pen­dence, re­mains to be seen.

How­ever, the sense is that the UK re­mains re­luc­tant to re­turn to the 1970s when full in­ter­nal self­gov­ern­ment in the As­so­ci­ated States in the Caribbean meant re­spon­si­bil­ity with­out power.

It is yet an­other is­sue that the re­gion may have to add to its al­ready over­full agenda.

CON­TRIB­UTED

A sec­tion of Necker Is­lands in the Bri­tish Vir­gin Is­lands as seen on May 17, 2013. The BVI is among Bri­tish Over­seas Ter­ri­to­ries that have to de­ter­mine how their re­la­tions with the Euro­pean Union will evolve once Brexit is a re­al­ity.

David Jes­sop

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