One matter the new government will have to keep front and centre is the fact that elements in the United Kingdom establishment are calling for major changes in the overseas territories, including doing away with belongership status, setting a date for legalising same-sex marriages, and implementing beneficial ownership registries as quickly as possible.
These are huge proposed changes to the OTs and their way of life.
OTs such as the Virgin Islands are religious and traditional communities, with great old-world charm that is especially a feature of residents over age 60.
These big changes to the OTs are being demanded by a powerful Parliamentary Affairs Committee, which last week released a report on its review of the UK/OT relationship.
For example, it is calling on the Theresa May-led government to set a date for all OTs to legalise same-sex marriage. If this directive is not followed, the report states, it should be imposed by an order in council.
Furthermore, the report from the committee asserts, “While we recognise that the OTs are small communities with unique cultural identities, we do not accept that there is any justification to deny legally resident British overseas territory and UK citizens the right to vote and to hold elected office.
“This elevates one group of British people over another and risks undermining the ties that bind the UK and the OTs together in one global British family.”
The report calls for a pathway for all resident UK and British OT citizens to be able to vote and hold elected office in the territory.
The report further recommends that the Foreign and Commonwealth Office respond with a timetable for a consultation and a deadline for “phasing out discriminatory elements of belongership, or its territory-specific equivalents.”
Now, this is a seismic development from a Whitehall that for years has kept the OTs at arm’s length, with a culture of detachment, allowing OTs to run their own internal and economic affairs.
One can only scratch one’s head at the sudden interest in the affairs of OTs by a number of powerful politicians and bureaucrats in the UK.
Self-determination, and allowing OTs to manage their own affairs within the context of the rule of law, has worked well as long as local politicians have not broken the law.
‘Brexit civil war’
So what is driving this? One thing is clear: This proposal is being demanded by a UK that is under huge pressure and that is being pulled apart by the Brexit civil war. OTs must understand that this whole matter is being driven by this undercurrent. Altruism and the welfare of OTs is the last thing on the minds of that parliamentary committee.
This matter appears to be simply another unnecessary imposition of UK mainland values on a set of OTs with varied and very different cultures and values sets. The motives, therefore, are suspect.
And on the matter of Brexit, the OTs must understand that today the UK is paralysed and polarised. Consequently, these decisions on the future of the OTs are being made under a massive cloud called Brexit.
There is a gross hypocrisy in telling OTs to take the horrible medicine of acquiescence to creating a level playing field by getting rid of the little rights they may have. And this is coming from a UK mainland that is a bastion of privilege and social class, with a history of colonialism going back to the days of slavery.
What is belongership?
Belongership is simply a means of allowing the natives of various OTs to maintain control over their own cultures, communities and value sets, which are very different to the value sets of mainland UK.
And even within mainland UK, various societies in Scotland, Northern Ireland and Wales share differing value sets.
Brexit is proving to be tasteless and very difficult to stomach in the countries of Britain, outside of England. That is the reason residents of OTs should be very suspicious of this “report.”
The OTs should wait for the outcome of this Brexit mess and then make a cold, hard assessment of the interests of the people of the OTs before making a united response.
And then they should ask why Gibraltar was invited to vote on Brexit and not the rest of the OTs?
Bear in mind that for all the hyperbole on equity and fairness made in this report, the reality is that Brexit is driven by xenophobia and the fear of migrants, first and foremost. Brexit is also driven by the dislike of about half of Britain to rules written and laid down by Brussels.
But now, the OTs must stomach rules and conditions laid down by a committee of the UK Parliament?
Please! Where is the democracy in that?
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