Global Britain and the British Overseas Territories: Resetting the relationship Contents

Conclusions and recommendations

The OTs and the FCO

1.Some of the Overseas Territories feel that the Foreign and Commonwealth Office should not be the lead UK department for the OTs. Some believe that this arrangement reinforces the perception that the OTs are foreign and that it is not fit for purpose given the cross-government nature of the UK Government’s modern relationship with the OTs. However, not all OTs agree and some feel that the FCO has long experience of working with the OTs, it has expertise in managing relationships with the countries that surround the OTs, and it deals on a daily basis with international treaty obligations relevant to the OTs. It is time for the UK Government to seriously engage with this issue and to do so in a fair and transparent manner. Before the next full meeting of the OTs Joint Ministerial Council the Government should therefore commission an independent review into cross-government engagement with the OTs and the FCO’s management of its responsibilities towards them. Drawing on international comparisons, this review should consider alternatives to the FCO and assess the costs, benefits and risks associated with moving primary responsibility for the OTs away from the FCO. The findings of the review should be presented to the House and shared with the elected OT governments as soon as is feasible (Paragraph 21)

2.There is a widespread feeling in the OTs that the quality and quantity of their communications with UK Government departments needs to improve. The OTs’ needs extend far beyond the FCO and their voices must be heard elsewhere in Whitehall. Towards this end, the FCO should draw up plans for a secondment programme between government departments in the UK and the OTs, including assessing the likely costs and level of interest in UK Government departments. The FCO should include specific proposals, costs and a timeline for this in its response to this report. (Paragraph 22)

3.The FCO must ensure that the officials it appoints in the Overseas Territories have the skills necessary both to build constructive relationships with the OT governments and to ensure that the territory’s governance meets the highest standards. In its response to this report, the FCO should explain the processes it has in place for advertising and recruiting for positions in the OTs, such as governorships, and what it does to consult the OT governments on these appointments. The FCO should also outline the training it provides to the officials it appoints in the OTs, both in advance of and during their postings, and how it assesses their performance. (Paragraph 23)

4.There is no single name that properly describes the UK, the Overseas Territories and the Crown Dependencies as a collective family of nations and territories. In its response to this report the FCO should lay out plans for a consultation on whether there should be a name and what such a name should be. (Paragraph 24)

5.The people of the Overseas Territories are deeply proud of their British heritage and continue to feel a strong sense of loyalty to the Crown and a close bond with the United Kingdom. The flying of the flags of all Overseas Territories and Crown Dependences in Parliament Square for the weekend of the Queen’s Birthday Parade, “Trooping the Colour” and for all State Visits since 2012, has been a source of enormous pride in the OTs. To many in the OTs, this symbolised that they were fully part of the British family and gave them long overdue recognition. However, their request to lay a Poppy Wreath on Remembrance Sunday at the National Service of Remembrance at the Cenotaph in Whitehall has not been accepted, thus far. There is a unanimous wish amongst the governments of the OTs that as their citizens have fought and died in the service of the Crown in various conflicts over the centuries, that they too should be able to pay tribute in the same way as Commonwealth nations, whose representatives lay a wreath each year at the Cenotaph. Since 2014, the Ambassador of Ireland has also been invited to lay a wreath in memory of Irish citizens who have served in the British Armed Forces, yet the OTs and the Crown Dependencies are still denied that same right. The Committee believes that it is time for this anomaly to be rectified. Before Remembrance Sunday 2019, the Foreign Secretary should explore the possibility of extending an invitation to each OT to send a representative to lay their own wreath, or at the very least one wreath laid by a different OT representative each year. (Paragraph 25)

The OTs and Parliament

6.Parliament has judged public registers of beneficial ownership to be a matter of national security. Those who seek to undermine our security and that of our allies must not be able to use the OTs to launder their funds. We cannot wait until public registers are a global norm and we cannot let considerations of competitiveness prevent us from taking action now. The lowest common denominator is not enough. While law enforcement agencies in the UK appear to have made relatively little use of their powers to request company information from the OTs, it is vital that this information can be accessed by the public, both in the UK and in countries where public money has been stolen by kleptocrats whose actions harm the UK and its allies. We welcome the FCO’s assurances that it is working with the OTs to help them implement the Sanctions and Anti-Money Laundering Act. We commend the constructive approach the FCO has taken on this, despite the language used by some OT politicians. We profoundly regret, however, that public registers may not be published before 2023. It is simply not acceptable that this will be long after the deadline set out in the Act. The Foreign Secretary, in co-operation with the elected governments of the OTs, should lay out before the Summer recess a clear and detailed timetable for the publication of registers of beneficial ownership in each OT. (Paragraph 33)

7.We are aware that many people in the Overseas Territories feel that they do not receive the attention in Parliament that they might expect and that the Foreign Affairs Committee has not carried out a major OTs inquiry since 2008. Given the competing pressure of other policy areas, and the requirement to scrutinise the whole gamut of the Foreign Office’s work, it is difficult to envisage another major OTs inquiry in this Parliament. This fails to do justice to the range and complexities of the issues facing the OTs, individually and collectively. Mindful of this, we believe the time is right to give serious consideration to establishing a formal mechanism by which members of the Foreign Affairs, Justice, International Development, EFRA and other relevant Committees are able collectively to scrutinise the UK Government’s administration of, spending on and policies towards the OTs. (Paragraph 38)

UK funding for the OTs

8.The Committee notes that the Overseas Territory of St. Helena includes the separate and distinct territories of Ascension Island and Tristan da Cunha. These are both inhabited territories with a population that is not directly connected to St. Helena and have their own identities, elected governments and flags. Therefore, Ascension Island and Tristan da Cunha should be treated with equality as British Overseas Territories in their own right and the FCO should change their status to this effect. However, this change should not necessarily imply that the practice of St. Helena, Ascension Island and Tristan da Cunha sharing the same Governor should come to an end. (Paragraph 48)

9.The UK has a duty under international law to provide for the development of the OTs, but it also has a responsibility to UK taxpayers to ensure that the considerable amount of money it spends on the OTs is not wasted. This means not only transparency and accountability in day-to-day spending, but also ensuring that capital investment is genuinely capable of delivering the Government’s long-term objective to ensure that the OTs are financially self-sufficient. We are seriously concerned by evidence suggesting that, despite significant capital investment in some OTs in recent years, much more remains to be done to provide infrastructure in OTs such as Montserrat, Tristan da Cunha and St Helena, with no clear end in sight. (Paragraph 54)

10.The Government must offer clarity on its long-term vision for the funding of the OTs, including replacing any lost EU funding, and continuing and expanding Blue Belt funding after 2020. Towards this end, the Government should explore options for a dedicated development and stimulus fund for the OTs, which would allow for the long-term, sustainable development of aid-dependent territories; help to stimulate the economies of those who need a stimulus but do not qualify for official development assistance; and help territories that are otherwise financially self-sufficient respond to crises such as hurricanes. This long-term vision must be based on a clear-eyed assessment of how the UK will balance the needs of individual OTs against value for money for UK taxpayers. There must be scope to ask hard questions about the long-term sustainability and viability of individual OTs without further significant levels of UK capital investment. If the Government does not think significant capital investment is possible, then it must be frank about what it will spend and towards what end. (Paragraph 55)

11.The UK Government must clarify the UK’s future relationship with the European Union as soon as possible and analyse the impact on the OTs, what funding will be required to ensure the OTs are not losing out, and what input the OTs will have on the replacement of EU funding in the future. (Paragraph 56)

Points of friction in UK / OT relations

12.The Government should urgently address concerns in the OTs about the issue of citizenship by descent and anomalies in the British Nationality Act that have taken too long to resolve. It should also consider options for removing quotas on the number of people in the OTs that can access NHS services in the UK when their own health systems cannot provide the care and treatment they need. This may be difficult from a bureaucratic point of view but it is an important test of the FCO’s ability to fight the OTs’ corner in the UK. (Paragraph 60)

13.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 Government should set a date by which it expects all OTs to have legalised same-sex marriage. If that deadline is not met, the Government should intervene through legislation or an Order in Council. (Paragraph 63)

14.Belongership and its equivalents are wrong. While we recognise that the OTs are small communities with unique cultural identities, we do not accept that there is any justification to deny legally-resident British Overseas Territory and UK citizens the right to vote and to hold elected office. This elevates one group of British people over another and risks undermining the ties that bind the UK and the OTs together in one global British family. The UK Government should initiate a consultation with the elected governments of the OTs and work with them to agree a plan to ensure that there is a pathway for all resident UK and British Overseas Territory citizens to be able to vote and hold elected office in territory. In its response to this report the FCO should lay out a timetable for this consultation process and set a deadline for phasing out discriminatory elements of belongership, or its territory-specific equivalents. (Paragraph 67)

Published: 21 February 2019