The United Kingdom is the mother of parliament and operates on the Westminster style of government, which it strongly embraces and cherishes. The term Westminster comes from the Palace of Westminster, which is currently the parliament seat in the UK. The Westminster system is in contrast with the presidential system used in the United States.

The British Empire was vast, at one time including some 25 percent of the globe and more than 400 million people. Consequently, many of its former colonies — including India and the UK overseas territories — employ the Westminster system. Nonetheless, in my opinion, it is flawed and needs some restructuring, adjusting and realigning to modernise it.

To update it, the Virgin Islands can embrace a hybrid system consisting of parts from the Westminster and presidential systems.


UK and VI systems

The UK is one of the few remaining monarchical governments and has a unique governing structure. It is a unitary state governed within the form of a parliamentary democracy under a constitutional monarchy. King Charles III is the current monarch and head of state. Prime Minister Rishi Sunak is the chief executive who operates on behalf of the monarch and with his consent.

The governing structure consists of three branches: executive, legislative and judicial. Legislative power is vested in parliament, which is composed of two chambers: the House of Commons and the House of Lords. The electorate votes directly for members of the House of Commons but doesn’t vote directly for the prime minister, who is chosen by other members of parliament (House of Commons). The House of Commons serves, in essence, as a permanent “electoral college.” Moreover, the legislative and executive (Cabinet) branches are intended to abide by the principle of separation of powers. However, there is little daylight between the legislative and executive branches. And for the most part, the legislative branch plays a secondary role to the executive branch.


In the VI

The VI is an OT of the UK, and a similar governing structure exists. King Charles III is the head of state, with an onsite appointed governor serving as the crown representative. The VI has a unicameral 13-member House of Assembly, with four at-large representatives and nine district representatives. The VI electorate votes directly to elect members of the HOA; elected members, in turn, elect the chief executive, the premier. Like the House of Commons, the HOA serves, in essence, as a permanent “electoral college.” Further, the premier forms a Cabinet from members of the HOA. Again, there is no separation of powers between the legislative and executive branches. And for the most part, the HOA plays a secondary role to the executive branch. Adjustments to the Westminster system are needed to meet the separation-of-powers principle in the VI.


Presidential system

The US is one of the few former colonies of the UK that did not adopt the Westminster system of government. Instead, it operates under the presidential system, consisting of three branches — legislative, executive and judicial — based on separation of powers among branches.

Under the presidential system in the US, the electorate votes directly for the chief executive, the president, who is also the head of state for a fixed term. It has a bicameral legislative branch, Congress, which consists of the House of Representatives and the Senate. The electorate votes directly for House of Representatives and Senate members for fixed terms. Moreover, the president forms their Cabinet not with members of Congress but with non-elected officials.


Suggested changes

The following are suggested changes to the Westminster system and adjustments to the political structure in the VI.

  • The VI is an OT of the UK, so the monarch will be its head of state until a majority of Virgin Islanders elect to vote to change its political status voluntarily.
  • Negotiate a constitutional change to allow a majority of the electorate to directly vote for and elect the premier for a fixed term, making the premier directly accountable to the people.
  • Restructure the system to allow the premier to form a Cabinet from either a) members of the HOA or b) non-elected members from the community (a borrowed process from the presidential system). Under this system, the premier as the government leader should chair the Cabinet and deliver an annual State of the Territory speech. The governor should deliver an annual Speech from the Throne focusing on UK policies and actions and their impact on the VI.
  • Change the current HOA from a unicameral system to a bicameral system. Establish a seven-to-nine-member directly elected Senate to enhance representation, provide for a more deliberative and enhanced legislative process, limit the opportunity for abuse of power, provide checks and balances, and so on. Bermuda, the oldest OT, has an 11-member appointed Senate.
  • Both the HOA and Senate should be directly elected for fixed, staggered terms.
  • Revamp and restructure the at-large representative system by segmenting the territory into four at-large geographical districts.
  • Restructure the system to promote separation of powers between the legislative and executive branches to the maximum extent possible and practical.
  • Change the first-past-the-post plurality voting system to a majority (50 percent plus one) voting system.
  • Explore instituting a proportional representation system.
  • Transition the civil service and the Royal Virgin Islands Police Force from under the direct purview of the governor to the local government consistent with self-governing.
  • Establish procedures for appointing and removing the premier and other members of the HOA and Senate (if instituted).
  • Set a fixed date for conducting a general election, leveling the political playing field and removing the guesswork as to when an election will be held.
  • Set a unity-of-command process for dealing with national emergencies such as hurricanes.


‘The change wave’

Change is constant, is needed, and is occurring at an accelerating rate.

The VI, therefore, should energise the change wave with some creative destruction in the governing process. The people, who are the stakeholders, should be actively engaged for inputs on the Westminster system of government.