The rollout of United Kingdom Prime Minister Theresa May’s “soft” Brexit plan earlier this month spurred multiple resignations throughout her government, including Foreign Secretary Boris Johnson.
Mr. Johnson, who visited the Virgin Islands shortly after the passage of Hurricane Irma, has long advocated for a “hard” Brexit entailing greater regulatory and economic separation from the European Union.
His resignation — the government’s third in 24 hours — came last Monday, three days after Ms. May came to an agreement with her cabinet on the UK’s Brexit negotiating position going forward with the EU.
The agreed-upon opening position — subject to potential modification should there be objections from officials in Brussels or UK members of Parliament — called for the UK to maintain a “common rulebook” with the EU on goods and agri-food products.
Though the agreement would grant Parliament the freedom not to adopt any future EU regulations in those areas, select policies would not be allowed to fall below currently regulated levels.
The proposal also calls for a free-trade area within the UK and the EU, though it would allow Great Britain to legislate its own future tariffs and trade policies with the rest of the world.
Additionally, the agreement would bring an end to freedom of movement between EU countries and the UK, though it would seek to install a “mobility framework” to ensure each side’s citizens could continue to travel and apply for school and work throughout the other jurisdiction’s territory.
In his resignation letter, Mr. Johnson argued that the agreement undermines the spirit of Brexit, which he said is about taking back control of the UK’s democracy.
“It now seems that the opening bid of our negotiations involves accepting that we are not actually going to be able to make our own laws,” he wrote, adding, “In that respect, we are truly headed for the status of colony — and many will struggle to see the economic or political advantages of that particular arrangement.”
Ms. May appointed Jeremy Hunt, the health secretary, to replace Mr. Johnson. Mr. Hunt supported the “remain” campaign during the 2016 Brexit referendum.
Impact on the VI
Brexit’s upcoming impact on the VI remains up to the fate of negotiations, which — based on the two-year timeline established when Ms. May officially triggered Brexit in March 2017 — should finish in early 2019.
Currently, holders of UK overseas territory passports can move freely throughout the Schengen Area. Such rights, Premier Dr. Orlando Smith has previously argued, provide VI citizens with more educational and business opportunities.
The UK’s initial negotiating bid, however, puts the future of that freedom in doubt, and details regarding the hypothetical “mobility framework” have yet to be published.
In addition to freedom-of-movement privileges, Dr. Smith (R-at large) has also stressed the importance of retaining tariff- and quota-free trade with the EU, something that seems possible under the Brexit stance published by the UK last week, though the proposal remains subject to potential EU counterbids.
The territory also has access to select pots of EU funding, which often are directed at targeted areas like climate change, sustainable energy and marine biodiversity. VI government officials have called on the UK to replace these resources should they be lost during the two-year departure negotiations.
In a Joint Ministerial Council meeting last month, UK officials assured overseas territories delegations that their EU privileges would remain in place throughout the 21-month transition period after Brexit begins on March 29, 2019.