Select Committee on Foreign Affairs Seventh Report

British Virgin Islands

Population: 27,000

GDP: $1.03 billion, GDP per head $38,000

Key industries: financial services, tourism

Associate member of CARICOM and OECS


465.  The British Virgin Islands (BVI) are adjacent to the US Virgin Islands (USVI) and 60 miles east of Puerto Rico. The BVI comprises over 40 islands, islets and cays (some little more than rocks) with a total land area of only 59 square miles scattered over some 1,330 sq miles of sea. Sixteen of the islands are inhabited, the largest being Tortola (21 square miles), Anegada (15 square miles), Virgin Gorda (8 square miles) and Jost van Dyke (3.4 square miles). Lush vegetation, sandy beaches, numerous yachting marinas and fine coral reefs make the islands a natural tourist destination.


466.  Discovered by Columbus in 1493, the islands came into British possession in 1666 when planters took control from the original Dutch settlers. The islands were annexed by the British in 1672. In 1872 they were incorporated into the British colony of the Leeward Islands. These islands were administered under a federal system until 1956 when the Federation was dissolved. The Governor of the Leeward Islands continued to run BVI until 1960 when an appointed Administrator (later a Governor) assumed direct responsibility.

Constitutional status

467.  A new constitution came into force on 15 June 2007. The BVI is an Overseas Territory with a large measure of internal self-government. The Governor has direct responsibility for external affairs, defence and internal security (including the police), the public service and the administration of the courts. The constitution provides for a ministerial system of government. The Governor is the head of the government, and the Premier, a locally elected politician, is appointed by the Governor. The position of Premier replaced that of Chief Minister under the new constitution. The House of Assembly comprises 13 elected members plus the Attorney General and the Speaker. Nine members are elected to represent one district each, and the remaining four by territory-wide vote. The Premier and the four other ministers must be elected members of the House of Assembly.

468.  Elections were held on 20 August 2007. The Virgin Islands Party (VIP) won seven District seats and three at-large seats, defeating the National Democratic Party (NDP) which had been in power since 2003. Ralph Telford O'Neal, OBE became the first Premier. Elections are held at least every 4 years. The next election should take place in 2011.

Evidence received

469.  The Committee received two written submissions from the British Virgin Islands: one from the Premier and one from the Financial Services Commission.

470.  We heard oral evidence from the Premier of the British Virgin Islands in December 2007.

Key recommendations

  • We conclude that although extending voting rights to non-Belongers will be politically difficult for Overseas Territory governments, the Government should at least encourage local administrations to review this issue with regard to non-Belongers who have resided in an Overseas Territory for a reasonable period. We recommend that the Government should propose that non-Belongers' rights be an agenda item for the next OTCC. (para 275)
  • We recommend that the FCO should encourage Bermuda, the British Virgin Islands, the Cayman Islands, and Gibraltar to continue to make progress in improving financial regulation, in particular in arrangements for investigating money laundering. (para 311)

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