It’s up to the United Kingdom’s remaining 14 overseas territories as to whether they remain British, according to a ‘white paper’ released by the Foreign and Commonwealth Office Thursday.
If they do, the UK intends to “deepen our special relationship”.
“It is time to strengthen our engagement to reflect the enduring nature of this relationship,” the discussion paper states.
What that means for the Cayman Islands and its former colonial masters – and the other four remaining territories in the Caribbean – is that advice, training and, in some circumstances, additional financial assistance will be available.
However, it also means that territories will be expected to maintain effective financial management and good governance structures.
“We expect territory governments to meet the same high standards as the UK government in maintaining the rule of law, respect for human rights and integrity in public life, delivering efficient public services and building strong and successful communities,” the paper states.
The UK white paper - the name for the 128-page document that sets out the goals for continued relations with the territories states that “the time is not right” for the territories and Britain to embark on yet another attempt to change their respective constitutions.
“We believe that the fundamental structure of our constitutional relationships is the right one; powers are devolved to the elected governments of the territories to the maximum extent possible,” the white paper states. “Our strategy is to ensure the constitutional arrangements work effectively to promote the best interest of the territories and of the UK.”
Any decision to sever ties between the UK and any of the remaining territories in the future would have to come with express wishes of the people within that territory.
The UK white paper also restated the Mother Country’s commitment to good governance, noting this issue is sometimes a problem in the small island territories.
“It is difficult to maintain all the skills needed to regulate modern economies and meet public expectations for specialist services,” the review found. “It is sometimes difficult to procure good value services.
“Public concerns about capacity, transparency and corruption need to be addressed.”
The UK said it was committed to making public entities more transparent across the territories to help ward off some of those issues. “It is important that everyone in the UK and the territories in public life acts in accordance with the highest standards,” the paper states. “This includes governors, ministers, public officials and advisers, members of national assemblies, members and officers of boards and other bodies discharging publicly funded functions.”
The ‘white paper’ suggests a hands-on policy and stronger political links between the UK and its territories.
The Overseas Territories Consultative Council that now meets each year in London will be changed into a Joint Ministerial Council with clear directives on how to implement strategies set out in the white paper document. A UK government secretariat will support the work of the council.
“We would welcome greater engagement between the UK parliament and the elected bodies of the territories,” the paper states. “Options” would be considered in taking this forward, according
to the UK.
One such option that has been discussed in the past would be to include a representative from the overseas territories in parliament.
Defence and security continues to be the primary responsibility of the UK in its administration of the overseas territories.
The main threat to the Caribbean territories and Bermuda, according to the white paper, is the threat from organised crime syndicates that deal in drugs and guns.
“Violent gangs, primarily engaged in street-level drug trafficking, operating in some territories, have been responsible for the significant increase in firearm- related murders and assaults,” the paper states.
The UK notes its Home Office will continue to authorise deployment of British police to the territories – similar to what occurred here in Cayman late last year – when the situation warrants.
In the recent world-wide economic decline, UK overseas territories have been “acutely vulnerable” to economic shifts.
“Prudent fiscal management and effective fiscal planning are fundamental to the delivery of continued economic success and increased resilience to external economic shocks,” the white paper stated. “For example, an economic downturn in the United States economy will tend to result in a reduction of tourist arrivals….with a consequent
reduction in government revenues.”
Despite the economic troubles, the UK pointed out that territories like Bermuda, Cayman and the Virgin Islands had developed important “niche positions” in the international financial markets.
“The UK government will continue to support territories with financial centres that demonstrate commitment to maintaining high regulatory standards,” the white paper continues.
Britain also noted that it was important to develop the local tourism industries in the territories but “consider carefully the environmental impact” of proposed development.