Premier Dr. Natalio “Sowande” Wheatley and Deputy Premier Kye Rymer explain changes to their international affairs plans during an Oct. 28 press conference. (Photo: DANA KAMPA)

Following the recent leadership shakeup in the United Kingdom, senior UK officials have postponed meetings with leaders in the Virgin Islands and other overseas territories.

Former OT Minister Jesse Norman was scheduled to visit the VI Oct. 27-28 to discuss the ongoing Commission of Inquiry reforms.

But Mr. Norman — who was appointed to the position on Sept. 7 at the start of Liz Truss’ 45 days as prime minister — was reassigned last week to the position of transport minister after Rishi Sunak replaced Ms. Truss.

As a result, Mr. Norman’s visit to the VI was cancelled, the Governor’s Office announced on Oct. 27.

The office confirmed on Nov. 2 that Mr. Norman will be succeeded by Lord Zac Goldsmith, who was previously the minister for the Pacific and the environment at the Foreign and Commonwealth Office and the Department for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs. He was first appointed as a minister of state in the FCO in February 2020. Also as a result of the UK leadership changes, the upcoming Joint Ministerial Council meeting between OT and UK leaders has been postponed, Premier Dr. Natalio “Sowande” Wheatley said during a press conference on Oct. 28.

Despite the postponements, however, the premier said he is optimistic about international relations and recent developments in the UK.

He added that he looks forward to engaging with the new OT minister when the JMC meeting is rescheduled “in the near future.”

Order in council

Also during the press conference, Dr. Wheatley thanked the Organisation of Eastern Caribbean States for urging the UK to lift the order in council that would allow the partial suspension of the VI Constitution if the territory’s National Unity Government doesn’t keep its promise to carry out an ambitious reform programme recommended by the Commission of Inquiry.

In an Oct. 25 statement, the OECS said the inalienable right to self-determination should not be violated by anyone.

“It is important to have our regional counterparts hold all parties accountable to our obligations under the [United Nations], including article 73,” Dr. Wheatley said on Oct. 28. “It was an honour to give my maiden address at the 72nd Meeting of the OECS Authority, and we are grateful to Premier Joseph Farrell and the government of Montserrat for their warm hospitality.”

Despite the postponement of the JMC meeting, Dr. Wheatley said his government will continue to press the UK to lift the order in council.

“Rest assured, we’re not going to go to sleep on this particular matter,” he said. “It’s very important for us as we go through this period of reform that we do it in a democratic framework: a framework that has integrity and that is not based on any form of coercion.”

RATED programme

Dr. Wheatley also covered several issues closer to home, including employment.

Cabinet, he said, recently established the new Registration, Apprenticeship, Training, Employment and Development Programme, which is designed to provide assistance for belongers seeking employment.

The RATED Programme focuses on providing training in marketable skills through apprenticeships, according to the premier.

He added that community members can also seek opportunities for temporary work in community beautification, farming and similar fields.

“This group will also be provided with opportunities for self-development through life skills courses and access to motivational speakers,” he said, promising further details in the coming weeks.

Community ties

The premier also commended VI organisations for their recent work to bring attention to issues including domestic violence, spina bifida, and diabetes.

Additionally, he called on community members to support law enforcement agencies seeking justice in unsolved cases, particularly in the recent killing of two men in East End. The killings were the fifth and sixth fatal shootings recorded this year.

“We continue to pray for the families affected, and we call on the community to unite in condemnation of this reckless act of violence,” Dr. Wheatley said.