The United Kingdom has 14 very diverse overseas territories. Together, they account for 94 percent of the UK’s unique biodiversity, a significant contribution to global biodiversity.
Several suggestions for inclusion in the Virgin Islands’ submissions to the UK Foreign Affairs Committee’s inquiry on the future of the UK OTs displayed a lack of knowledge about them. Someone suggested each OT be represented in the UK Parliament in some way, unaware that three have no elected government or permanent civilian population. However, all are islands except the British Antarctic Territory, the Cyprus Sovereign Base Areas and Gibraltar. The bracketed populations below, which were drawn from online sources, indicate their relative sizes.
Four OTs in the Caribbean — Anguilla (15,094); the VI (31,196 as of 2017); the Cayman Islands (62,348); and Montserrat (5,203) — have similar constitutions with political parties, elections to either a House of Assembly or a Legislative Assembly, and an executive council (usually called a cabinet) led by a premier or chief minister, the leader of the majority political party in parliament, which controls most “domestic” concerns. The governor deals mostly with foreign affairs and economic issues.
The Turks and Caicos Islands (35,963) is governed by a premier (the head of government) with an elected legislature called the House of Assembly. The 2006 constitution greatly increased its autonomy.
North Atlantic, South Pacific
In the north Atlantic, Bermuda (61,070) has been self-governed since 1620 by a parliament with a Senate and House of Assembly. Most executive powers are devolved to a premier, its head of government.
In the South Pacific Ocean, the Pitcairn Islands (50) has an elected mayor and Island Council, whose powers to propose and administer local legislation are subject to approval by the governor, who retains near-unlimited powers of plenary legislation on the UK’s behalf.
St. Helena (4,082) is governed by an elected Legislative Council, with the governor head of government and leading the Executive Council, with appointed members from the Legislative Council and two ex-officio members. The OT also includes Ascension (806) and Tristan da Cunha (300), on each of which governance is led by an administrator advised by an elected Island Council.
Local author Kenneth Bain reminisces on his “colonial service” in Pitcairn Pending: an Island Colonial Comedy (2005) and Treasured Islands: the British Virgins and Beyond (2002), which includes his experiences on St. Helena and Tristan da Cunha (earth’s remotest inhabited island).
As the VI’s financial secretary and sometime deputy governor between 1980 and 1985, Mr. Bain actively participated in developing the charter boat industry and the drafting and passage of the International Business Companies Ordinance 1984, launching our financial services industry.
The Falkland Islands (2,922), claimed by Argentina as Las Malvinas, is governed by an elected Legislative Assembly, with a chief executive and director of corporate resources as ex officio members
Gibraltar (34,733), claimed by Spain, has a parliamentary government headed by an elected chief minister, but its defence, external affairs and internal security are vested in the governor. The Gibraltar Constitution Order 2006 was approved in a referendum.
The British Indian Ocean Territory (with no permanent inhabitant, but around 2,500 military personnel and contractors) is claimed by Mauritius. The indigenous Chagos Islanders, forcibly evicted in 1971 to make way for a joint UK/US military facility on Diego Garcia, lost a subsequent appeal to the UK House of Lords against the legality of an Order in Council preventing their return.
The British Antarctic Territory (with no native or permanent population) is administered by a commissioner.
South Georgia and the South Sandwich Islands (with no native or permanent population) is governed by a commissioner supported by an administrator.
Akrotiri and Dhekelia Sovereign Base Areas on Cyprus (with about 7,700 Cypriots, 3,600 service and UK-based contract personnel and 4,400 dependents) is administered by the Commander of British Forces, Cyprus, with a chief officer running the civil government day-to-day.
The OTs interact with the Crown dependencies from time to time — for example, at the Commonwealth Parliamentary Association’s meetings, like the ones in Road Town in 2009 and 2015, and the CPA’s election observer missions to the five OTs in the Caribbean.
The Manx government regularly hosts Tristanians wanting perspectives on how other islands work, with island-to-island exchanges and cross-training programmes.