In a world ruled by superpowers, small countries and territories controlled by the agendas of powerful states like these majestic Virgin Islands must aim for greater power for their people within the crucible of that global power play.
Greater autonomy or independence are not necessarily the best options to boost the social and economic welfare of small island territories and jurisdictions under the thumb of a superpower.
The BVI Beacon’s June 18 editorial asserted that the VI’s relationship with the United Kingdom is increasingly unpredictable and fraught with tensions.
The reason, in this writer’s view, is that the UK today is facing an unpredictable post-Brexit order and a harsh economic and social environment driven by the Covid-19 pandemic.
The UK today has to find a new way ahead in a world increasingly driven by the “diktats” of the United States and China. The old post-World War II order is over. The imperial culture that has driven global UK in the years beginning in the early 1900s is no longer in existence.
The Beacon further stated that a forthcoming constitutional review should seek greater autonomy and lay a solid groundwork for independence.
The editorial speculated that the people of the VI currently want the UK to remain a watchdog in the absence of comprehensive governance reform on matters such as freedom of information legislation, a public register of legislators’ interests, a ministerial code of conduct, whistle-blower legislation, and an ethics law.
The preceding is a tall order and will be a challenge to achieve if recent history is any indication. A better option may be to work to enhance the powers and rights of natives inhabiting overseas territories instead.
That means beginning with what exists and moving ahead with enhancing the rights and powers of belongers and OT citizens within the existing structures and framework.
In the Caribbean, there are three types of jurisdiction which decide Caribbean citizens’ rights, obligations and powers.
First, there are the fully independent countries that govern their own internal and external affairs, such as Trinidad and Tobago, St. Kitts and Nevis, and Antigua and Barbuda.
Second, there are the territories of the United States and European countries that offer their citizens equal rights with mainland citizens, such as Guadeloupe, Aruba, Curacao, and St. Martin. Citizens of Puerto Rico and the US Virgin Islands, too, are full US citizens, but they lack voting rights on the US mainland. When they reside on the mainland, however, they receive full voting rights as US citizens
Third are the overseas territories of the UK. These are islands that have been granted a great degree of autonomy and self-rule. However, for all intents and purposes they remain colonies of the UK, and their citizens are colonials. Their freedoms depend upon the goodwill of the “mother country.”
Colonials have fewer rights than mainland citizens in terms of constitutionality. A UK citizen proper has greater constitutional rights than a UK overseas territory citizen.
Nevertheless, one cannot tell the difference unless some matter surfaces in terms of a question of constitutionality. This will usually happen on questions of migration or citizenship.
The argument against tinkering with greater autonomy is that it is better to pull overseas territories into one of the two upper rungs of the three-rung ladder: full independence or equality with the mainland UK.
Any other arrangement will be playing around the periphery of what are the true and essential issues: independence for overseas territories or full equality with the mainland ruling power.
It has to be either full independence or equality under a new arrangement where the differentiation between overseas territory citizen and UK citizen disappears, and all become full UK citizens with all the rights and privileges pertaining. That may mean premiers sitting in the UK parliament and voting as full members of that body.
The problem with the preceding arrangement is that the UK will want reciprocity, and that may be too hard a pill to swallow to allow UK citizens from the mainland free entry into the overseas territories to live and work.
In any event, as this writer has often stated, all of the overseas territories are going to have to come together as one to decide these matters. Why? Because they share a similar social, political and historical DNA, and will better get the ear of the UK as one social, political and economic bloc.
A two-year rotating overseas territories president, or super premier, representing all five Caribbean overseas territories of the UK, will be given a greater hearing in Whitehall and a host of powerful groupings, such as the European Union and the United Nations, than a single leader from one of five tiny jurisdictions. It is easier to ignore one leader from a small jurisdiction than a leader who represents five overseas territories backed by his fellow premiers and legislators. That is simply how power works.
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