Citizens in many British Overseas Territories (OTs) are nervous that the United Kingdom Parliament may be moving to betray their wishes regarding a number of contentious policy issues over which the OTs have expressed strong opposition.This comes on the heels of recent reports that two Conservative UK MPs, John d. Penrose and Andrew R. Rosindell, have submitted a draft Bill to Prime Minister Boris Johnson for the appointment of nine MPs to the House of Commons to represent the OTs.The Bill, entitled Representation of the People, Crown Dependencies and Overseas Territories Bill, was drafted by Penrose, Rosindell and member of the Friends of the British Overseas Territories (FOTBOT) and former member of the States of Guernsey, Anthony Webber, who have been pushing the UK Parliament to give a voice to the Overseas Territories and Crown Dependencies who currently have no official representation in parliament which has ultimate power to legislate on their behalf, sometimes against their will.
The suggestion to have MPs for the OTs in the House of Commons was raised in the 15th Report of Session 2017–19 House of Commons Foreign Affairs Committee (FCA), titled Global Britain and the British Overseas Territories: Resetting the relationship, in February 2019. The issue was raised as OTs reacted to the Sanctions and Anti-Money Laundering Act (SAMLA), which was passed by the UK Parliament in 2018 without consultation with OT Governments even though it would have damaging consequences on the Financial Services industries of several OTs.
While some OT representatives were in favour of having direct representation in the House of Commons, some were against it.
The FCA, however, did not make any recommendations for moving ahead with appointing MPs for the OTs, leading OT citizens to believe that the issue was a dead one. But where it is now occupying the attention of the UK Prime Minister, with a Bill presented by members of his own political party, OT citizens are concerned that other contentious issues raised in the FCA report – for which there were actual recommendations and which the UK Parliament gave public guarantees that it would not pursue – such as legalising same sex marriage through an Order in Council and forcing the OTs to effectively disband the Belonger status and allow so-called non-Belongers the right to vote and run for elected office, may be resurrected regardless of the promises made.Identified as ‘Points of Friction in UK/OT relations’, the FCA report notes that there is a divergence between the UK and the OTs on the issues of same-sex marriage and Belongership, particularly in Anguilla, the British Virgin Islands (BVI), the Cayman Islands, Montserrat, and Turks and Caicos.
Leaders from these OTs pointed out to the FCA that consultation with the people of their Territories on same-sex marriage is very important since “this is a cultural issue in our part of the world,” and there are ethnic differences between the people of the OT and those of the UK. The population in the BVI, for instance, is made up predominantly of Methodists, Christians and Catholics, which do not support same-sex marriage.
The FCA boldly recommended to the UK Parliament: “It is time for all OTs to legalise same-sex marriage and for the UK Government to do more than simply support it in principle. It must be prepared to step in, as it did in 2001 when an Order in Council decriminalised homosexuality in OTs that had refused to do so. The [UK] Government should set a date by which it expects all OTs to have legalised same-sex marriage. If that deadline is not met, the [UK] Government should intervene through legislation or an Order in Council.
”In an official response to the FCA Report, the UK Government stated in April 2019 that notwithstanding it is committed to equal rights, it recognizes the OTs as “separate, largely self-governing jurisdictions with their own democratically-elected representatives” and that policy on marriage law is an area of devolved responsibility. Hence it is an area for the Territories to decide and legislate on and their “justice mechanisms and processes should be allowed the space to address these matters.” The UK Government said it would take the less invasive approach of encouraging OTs to change their laws.
Similarly, the FCA recommended the UK Government take a more aggressive approach to press OTs to change their laws regarding “elements of Belongership, or its territory-specific equivalents”, even having the UK Foreign and Commonwealth Office lay out a timetable for the process and setting a deadline for OTs to change their laws. But the UK Government, in its official response which is published on the UK Parliament’s website, stated that it recognizes “the desire of island communities to maintain their cohesion,” and the “concerns, sensitivities and historical background on this issue.
” As such, it added, “In the spirit of a relationship based upon partnership, we will continue to support and encourage consistent and open political engagement on Belongership and its territory-specific equivalents, whilst respecting the fact that immigration decisions are primarily a matter for OT governments.”But where Conservative UK MPs are now lobbying their Prime Minister to push forward laws that were floated with opposition and the FCA was not even moved to include in the recommendations of their report, OT citizens are wondering just how much they can rely on the UK Government to keep their word and to respect the wishes of the OTs. If the UK Government can go behind their backs with the legislation for OT representatives in the House of Commons, as it did with the SAMLA, then what is to stop the UK from doing the same with same-sex marriages and Belongership?