Goldsmith and Rutley
Lord Zac Goldsmith (left) — the former United Kingdom minister for the overseas territories — resigned on June 30. The interim OT minister is David Rutley (right), the parliamentary under-secretary of state for Americas and Caribbean.

For the fourth time in less than two years, a United Kingdom overseas territories minister has stepped down amid ongoing political turmoil at the highest levels of the UK government.

Lord Zac Goldsmith resigned from the UK Cabinet on June 30, accusing Prime Minister Rishi Sunak of being “uninterested” in the environment.

“The UK has visibly stepped off the world stage and withdrawn our leadership on climate and nature,” wrote Mr. Goldsmith, who was also the minister for the environment and climate change. “Too often we are simply absent from key international fora. Only last week you seemingly chose to attend the party of a media baron rather than attend a critically important environment summit in Paris that ordinarily the UK would have co-led.”

Mr. Sunak quickly fired back, accusing Mr. Goldsmith of refusing to apologise for criticising a recent inquiry that found that ex-Prime Minister Boris Johnson had misled the UK Parliament about parties held during the pandemic.

Eight OT ministers in seven years

Mr. Goldsmith’s replacement had not been announced as of Beacon press time yesterday afternoon, but a July 4 press release from the Virgin Islands government stated that the interim OT minister will be David Rutley, the parliamentary under-secretary of state for the Americas and Caribbean.

‘Regrettable’ turnover

On Tuesday, Premier Dr. Natalio “Sowande” Wheatley called the frequent turnover of OT ministers “regrettable.”

“Lord Goldsmith was engaged in issues of paramount importance to the Virgin Islands and the OTs, such as adapting to and mitigating against the ill effects of climate change, as well as the UK and OTs working together to protect the integrity of the global financial system,” Dr. Wheatley told the Beacon on Tuesday. “Another critical area of dialogue in which we were engaged was the need for a new metric to measure eligibility for concessional financing.

“Most importantly, we discussed respect for British Virgin Islands’ right to self-determination, respect for the principle of self-governance, and a modern partnership in which the territory’s institutions of democratic governance are strengthened and respected.”

Lord Zac Goldsmith
Lord Zac Goldsmith visited the Virgin Islands in January and February while serving as the United Kingdom minister for overseas territories. (Photo: GIS)

Dr. Wheatley and other Caribbean OT leaders met with Mr. Rutley, the interim OT minister, on Tuesday on the sidelines of the 45th Regular Meeting of the Conference of Heads of Government of the Caribbean Community in Trinidad and Tobago, according to the VI government press release.

At the introductory meeting, Dr. Wheatley congratulated Mr. Rutley and shared his perspective on key areas for engagement between the UK and OTs going forward, the release stated.

“It was a pleasure to meet Minister Rutley, and I look forward to working with him on the climate crisis affecting OTs, environmental matters, sustainable development, the planned UK-OTs illicit-finance dialogue, strengthening the overall relationship between the UK and OTs, and building a new modern partnership between the Virgin Islands and UK,” Dr. Wheatley said.

Caribbean OT Political Leaders and Interim UK OT Minister Hon. David Rutley (1)
Leaders of Caribbean overseas territories including Premier Dr. Natalio “Sowande” Wheatley, met with interim United Kingdom OT Minister David Rutley (third from left) this week in Trinidad. (Photo: GIS)
UK turmoil

Mr. Goldsmith’s resignation is the latest instalment of the political turmoil that has roiled the UK’s incumbent Conservative Party since 2015, when then-Prime Minister David Cameron announced a referendum on whether Britain should exit the European Union.

Since then, the UK has had four prime ministers — including three in the past year — and has seen an avalanche of changes in its government’s Cabinet.

That turmoil has keenly affected the position of OT minister, which has been held by eight different parliamentarians since Mr. Cameron submitted his resignation to the Queen in July 2016.

Here in the VI, the leadership changes have come amid heightened tensions in VI-UK relations following the April 2022 arrest of then-Premier Andrew Fahie in Miami and the release of a damning Commission of Inquiry report the following day.

Since then, VI leaders have met frequently with OT ministers, who have used the threat of direct rule to pressure the VI government to keep its promise to carry out wide-ranging reforms recommended by the COI.

Shifting leadership

But the OT ministers keep changing.

As the territory awaited the release of the COI report in March 2022, then-OT Minister Amanda Milling — who had held the position only about six months — visited the VI to meet with leaders.

Amanda Milling
Then-Minister for Overseas Territories Amanda Milling, centre, attended a vigil against gun violence when she visited the territory in March 2022. (File photo: DANA KAMPA)

The week after Mr. Fahie’s arrest, she visited again — this time for discussions that led to the quick formation of the National Unity Government and a UK pledge not to implement direct rule so long as the COI reforms are carried out as promised. But Ms. Milling was replaced last September after Prime Minister Boris Johnson resigned amid a scandal involving an appointee accused of sexual misconduct.

Mr. Johnson’s successor, Liz Truss, appointed Jesse Norman to succeed Ms. Milling as OT minister. Mr. Norman subsequently was scheduled to visit the territory on Oct. 27-28 to meet with VI leaders about the ongoing COI reforms.

But before Mr. Norman could make the trip, Ms. Truss resigned after a record-short 44 days, and her successor Rishi Sunak replaced Mr. Norman with Mr. Goldsmith.

That leadership shakeup also caused the UK to reschedule the annual Joint Ministerial Council meeting with OT leaders that had been slated for last November.

Mr. Goldsmith finally visited the territory on Jan. 31-Feb. 2 to pick up where Mr. Norman left off, and the delayed JMC meeting was held in May. Meanwhile, the UK has continued to pressure the VI government to efficiently carry out the COI reforms.