A recent parliamentary report published by the House of Commons’ Foreign Affairs Committee on February 21, titled 15th Report – Global Britain and the British Overseas Territories: Resetting the Relationship, has evoked furor among the political leadership in British Overseas Territories (BOTs). The report recommends extending voting rights to mainland British citizens in the overseas territories to enable them to participate in local elections in the BOTs.
The report said that the “UK government should initiate a consultation with the elected governments of the OTs and agree on 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.”
As of now, there are 14 overseas territories that are overlooked by the UK which are mostly self-governed, and Britain’s authority is confined to the defense and foreign affairs of the territories. Even though they are not a part of the UK and European Union (except Gibraltar), majority of the permanently inhabited territories had internally voted to remain under the British overview, under the domicile of British Overseas Territories. Currently, none of the overseas territories has a nationality status and the residents of the majority of such territories are entitled either under British Citizenship or British Overseas Territories Citizenship (BOTC). Most of the populated territories have legislative autonomy to have legalities over immigration. BOTC status does not automatically grant the right of abode in any of the territories, as it depends on the territory’s immigration laws. A territory may issue ‘belonger’ status to allow a person to reside in the territory that they have close links with.
The report said that “belongership” — the term under which British and other expats live in the territories — is wrong. “While we recognize that the overseas territories are small communities with unique cultural identities, we do not accept that there is any justification to deny legally resident…UK citizens the right to vote and to hold elected office,” it stated.
The Sputnik reported that political leadership in BOTs in the Caribbean, including Cayman Islands, Bermuda as well as Turks and Caicos, raised strong criticism against the report’s recommendation to bestow voting rights on ‘belongers’ in the BOTs. It also reported that the former prime minister of the Turks and Caicos Islands, Michael Misick, seemed very concerned about the fact that there are around 20,000 “belongers” on the islands, far outnumbering the 8,000 islanders who are registered to vote.
“We would no longer have any control over our government because the British could simply come here and vote out our representatives and put in their own. Furthermore, they are seeking to force their cultural values on our society with their demand for us to recognize gay marriage,” Misick told Sputnik.
Bermuda’s premier, David Burt, and prime minister of the Cayman Islands, Alden McLaughlin, also reportedly condemned the report.
According to Z99.9 Grand Cayman, McLaughlin found the report to be “shameful” because it seeks to impose a new era of neo-colonialism on the overseas territories. He said that attempting to control areas like voting in the OTs was something that had been devolved a long time ago. “The day the UK government seriously considers that persons who are not Caymanians can stand for office is the day, if I’m still able, if I’m alive, I lead the charge for independence,” he added.
The Royal Gazette reported Burt saying that, “The right to vote is perhaps the most highly valued right in a democracy. To suggest that non-Bermudians should have the right to determine the direction of our country via the ballot box ignores the history of voting rights in Bermuda and is a tone-deaf recommendation which we will strenuously resist.”