- Written by JASON SMITH
- Published: 15 September 2017
The United Kingdom government’s efforts to raise the hundreds of millions of dollars needed for disaster relief and recovery in its Caribbean overseas territories hard hit by Hurricane Irma faces some roadblocks.
In the short-term, at least two major hurdles loom, firstly, that the high national incomes enjoyed by the Virgin Islands, Anguilla and the Turks and Caicos Islands prior to the hurricane disqualify them from using funds typically allocated for “official developmental assistance”. This means that the UK, which is still obligated to assist the islands based on the longstanding OT-UK relationship, will likely have to find another way to pay the relief bills, according to an investigation by the BBC.
Secondly, according to a letter written by a subcommittee of the UK House of Lords to the country’s senior legislator spearheading the process for the UK to exit the European Union, “Brexit”means that millions in EU disaster funds that ordinarily could have benefitted the VI, TCI and Anguilla now can’t be counted on.
According to a Sept. 13 report published by the BBC, international aid rules agreed to by members of the Paris, France-based Organisation for Economic Cooperation and Development —a group that includes the UK —exclude the OTs from receiving funds under the UK’s £13 billion (USD $17 billion).
To date, the UK government has pledged £57 million to the OT relief effort but has come under heavy fire for what some see as a lack of preparation before Irma and too slow of a response afterwards.
Those funds, according to the BBC, have come from the Ministry of Defence, which is providing the military response and other air from “cross-government”monies.
Representatives of the UK’s aid agency, the Department for International Development, said that its response to the OTs hasn’t been affected by budgetary concerns.
"This has been our primary focus and continues to be our priority. We are looking at how the current overseas aid rules apply to disasters such as this one,”it told the BBC.
The impact of Brexit, which was voted for in 2016 but the terms of which are still being worked out, will complicate matters further, some fear.
In the 12-page letter from the House of Lords’European Union Committee to David Davis, the UK’s secretary of state for exiting the European Union, the committee brought up the aid question.
“Events such as these remind us of our obligation to and solidarity with the citizens of the overseas territories,”the committee asked. “Can you provide a full account of the steps the Government are taking to provide aid and support to the people of the overseas territories affected by Hurricane Irma? What steps will the EU take to provide its own support?”
The letter —which also touches a number of important aspects of Brexit’s likely impact on the OTs, including financial services, freedom of movement and fishing rights —questions how the UK will replace development funding to the OTs that they may no longer have access to if European Development Fund (EDF) monies are restricted post-Brexit.
EDF funds, for example, contributed over a third of Anguilla’s budget in 2016 and was used for infrastructure and capital projects.
The VI, which hasn’t received UK grant-in-aid for several decades due to the economy’s prosperity, hasn’t benefitted from EDF funds like Anguilla but has received funds under several regional projects. It is unclear how these monies will be affected by Brexit, the committee wrote.
“Given that a number of overseas territories do not currently qualify for receipt of UK overseas
aid, how does the UK government plan to cover any funding gap resulting from Brexit?”the letter stated. “Is the government willing to countenance continued EDF funding to the overseas territories, even if this means continued UK contributions to the EU budget?”
The committee asked for a response from the government to its questions no later than Nov. 13.
(Mr. Smith, a former Beacon journalist, reported this story from Seattle, Washington.)