Relations between the UK and the Overseas Territories have been under strain in recent years and steps should be taken to strengthen the bonds between them, say the Foreign Affairs Committee.
In Global Britain and the British Overseas Territories: Resetting the relationship, the Committee says while the UK Government should urgently address concerns held by the OTs – about access to NHS services, for example – the OTs must act to reduce areas of divergence and friction. This must include legalising same-sex marriage and working with the Foreign Secretary to set out a timetable for the publication of registers of beneficial ownership in each OT.
Relationship between UK Government and Overseas Territories stuck in the past
The relationship between the UK Government and the Overseas Territories is ‘stuck in the past’, says the Report. To ensure the longstanding bonds are strengthened in the name of a truly ‘Global Britain’, the time is right for an independent review of cross-government engagement. That review should consider whether the Foreign and Commonwealth Office should retain lead responsibility for the OTs within government.
Chair of Committee, Tom Tugendhat MP, commented:
"For the Overseas Territories, Global Britain is a living reality. Each OT is unique but all of them take great pride in their British identities and their strong bonds with the UK.
"The UK and the OTs are family, but that relationship must be underpinned by shared duties to each other and values. That is why we call for the UK government to reconsider the relationship and are critical of Belongership and its equivalents. We also call on the OTs which have not yet done so to legalise same sex marriage.
"Now is the time to tackle tensions and reset the relationship. We are calling for Government to step back and take a considered view of how we engage with each other. Providing certainty for the OTs will strengthen our ties. Just as we must stick to the date Parliament set as part of the Sanctions and Anti-Money Laundering Act 2018, we must reopen the discussion on the best way to manage the relationships between us will give voice to the Overseas Territories in Whitehall so that future changes required by our shared security include wider input from the Overseas Territories."
Recommendations from the Committee's report
Among the Report’s recommendations, the Committee calls on the UK Government to:
- Commission an independent review into cross-government engagement with the Overseas Territories, to include FCO management of its responsibilities and consider the costs, benefits and risks of moving primary responsibility for the OTs away from the Foreign Office;
- Consider a new formal mechanism by which members of the relevant select committees can scrutinise the UK Government’s administration of, expenditure on and policy towards the OTs.
- Set a date by which it expects all OTs to have legalised same-sex marriage. The UK Government must be prepared to intervene through legislation or an Order in Council if the date is not met.
- Phase out Belongership and its local equivalents, which make it impossible for some British citizens in the OTs to vote or hold elected office.
- Provide a clear and detailed timetable for the publication of registers of beneficial ownership in each OT – in line with Parliament’s recognition that this is a matter of national security;
- Provide clarity on funding for the OTs, including any lost EU funding, based on a ‘clear-eyed assessment’ of how the UK will balance the needs of individual OTs against value for money for UK taxpayers. This should include exploring options for a dedicated development and stimulus fund to allow for the long-term, sustainable development of aid-dependent territories.
- Address concerns in the OTs about the issue of citizenship by descent and anomalies in the British Nationality Act.
The British Overseas Territories share a bond with the UK and take pride in their deeply-rooted British identities. Largely self-governing territories, they span nine time zones from the Atlantic to the Pacific, the Antarctic to the Caribbean. Their total population is only about 250,000 but they include some of the greatest biodiversity in the world.