The United Kingdom is set to leave the European Union tomorrow with a deal. This deal includes a newly negotiated withdrawal agreement, whereby the UK will enter an implementation period with the EU from tomorrow until Dec. 31, to allow for a time-limited period of transition.

I am sure many across the Virgin Islands community will be wondering exactly what Brexit means for you and how it might affect VI. I would like to take this opportunity to answer that question. But I’d also like to be very honest in saying many things are still to be worked out in the next phase of negotiations, which will take place during the implementation period.

As you may know, the Office of the Governor is responsible under the VI Constitution for external affairs, and so it’s been my objective to ensure the VI’s best interests are represented and reflected in the UK’s approach to Brexit negotiations, working in partnership with the premier, ministers and other members of the government. As negotiations have unfolded, the UK and VI governments have been in close contact at every level, right up to teleconferences between the overseas territories’ premiers and UK ministers.

Alongside this, I have worked hard to explain the negotiations to the VI community — to whom the governor is accountable — and hear your questions and concerns. Thank you for your valuable engagement on this matter. Engagement and debate are essential ingredients to any transparent and well-governed democracy.

To summarise, during the implementation period, your rights and those of your family members will not change. Neither will the relationship VI companies and non-governmental organisations have with the EU or the UK.

From our conversations, I know there are three main areas of concern, which I will address in turn.

 

Going abroad

The first is your ability to travel, study and live abroad.

Firstly, let me be clear that eligibility criteria for British passports of all types will not be affected by Brexit. Secondly, the rules on travelling to the EU will remain the same throughout the implementation period. This means British citizen passport holders will be able to continue to live, work and study in the EU as they do now during the implementation period. The rights of British overseas territory citizen (BOTC) passport holders — including 90-day visa-free access to the Schengen area in any 180 days — also will not change, either during the implementation period or afterwards.

UK degrees are recognised in many countries around the world and there are a number of agreements between different countries that support this. Many of these agreements are not related to the EU, which means that after Brexit, many (but not all) academic qualifications will still be recognised. Recognition of some professional qualifications is more complicated, but UK universities are working to ensure that mutual recognition of professional qualifications will continue.

 

EU-funded projects

The second area of concern is your access to EU-funded projects.

I fully understand the importance of EU funding for a number of organisations and projects in the VI, such as the European Development Fund, BEST (Biodiversity and Ecosystem Services in Territories), Horizon 2020 and Erasmus+.

EU funding has also contributed towards the VI’s recovery and development efforts, including enabling the rehabilitation, upgrading and provision of emergency supplies to nine emergency shelters to meet SMART standards across the territory, plus providing associated training. We want the VI to continue to benefit from this kind of funding, and that is why UK Prime Minister Boris Johnson has negotiated a deal whereby projects under these funding streams will continue to be covered by the EU for their duration.

 

Doing business

The third area of concern is your ability to do business.

VI businesses that export goods to EU markets will continue to be able to export tariff- and quota-free for the duration of the implementation period. That includes the VI’s financial services sector, to which EU law does not automatically apply and which therefore will not see any changes to its market access rights during the implementation period.

While post-2020 access to the EU27 market is a matter for the upcoming negotiations, the UK government is absolutely committed to seeking the best possible access for goods from overseas territories as part of our future relationship with the EU. During these negotiations, the UK government will also work to ensure that any post-2020 arrangements for ease of mobility of people agreed with the EU consider the specific needs and requirements of the OTs.

I’d like to take this opportunity to address EU blacklisting, as I know it is a concern for the financial services sector — though let me be clear that it is separate from and unaffected by Brexit. The UK has been supporting the VI’s negotiations with the EU on meeting requirements to demonstrate economic substance, and thanks to the VI government’s new legislation, the EU voted not to place the territory on its blacklist in March 2019. The UK stands ready to assist the VI in ensuring that legislation remains fit for purpose and meets EU requirements.

 

For more info

More information on these three things and other matters relating to Brexit can be found at the website https://www.gov.uk/brexit.

I want to leave you in no doubt that the UK government is absolutely committed to the safety and prosperity of the VI and the other overseas territories. Brexit is no exception to this.

Therefore, as the implementation period and the next phase of the negotiations begins, and we look to seize the opportunities afforded by Brexit (including international trade agreements), my ongoing priority is to ensure that the voices of the VI are heard in London.

To have your voice heard and find out more about the Governor’s Office, please follow us on Facebook (@UKinBVI) and Twitter (@bvigovoff), or visit https://bvi.gov.vg/departments/office-governor-0.


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