By Michael Jarvis, UK Correspondent
Brexit continues to occupy the attention of the British Overseas Territories(OTs) to varying degrees depending on local priorities; ranging from possibilities of opportunity, uncertainty…and to little effect if any.
The Cayman Islands, for example, sees opportunity amongst the challenges, while at the other end of the spectrum, some others are concerned about the uncertainty it brings.
One thing is certain though; all of the OTs seek clarity.
That is expected to take shape when the OTs leaders and UK government officials meet in March for what would be their first formal get-together since Prime Minister Boris Johnson took office in December.
A series of rapid Brexit-related political changes in the UK towards the end of last year meant that the annual Joint Ministerial Council(JMC) summit had to be deferred.
The UK government under then-prime minister Theresa May and now under its current leader Boris Johnson has set out to assuage any fears of the OTs being left in a lurch as a result of Brexit.
Cayman Islands Premier Alden Mclaughlin has said that with the UK no longer in the EU “there could be some challenges in terms of ensuring there is a level playing field and fair consideration of the Cayman Islands’ efforts as it relates to EU-driven financial services initiatives."
Speaking recently in the Legislative Assembly he referred to an undertaking from the British government to look into areas where the UK could assist the territory with its direct lobbying of the EU on issues of specific interest.
This is the main would revolve around the Cayman Islands lucrative, globally-recognised offshore financial centre.
The OTs have been beneficiaries of EU funding programs and ease of travel to the EU under the UK’s membership of the bloc.
The issue of funding is of particular relevance to Montserrat which has been the beneficiary of EU programs, the most recent being infrastructure funding covering part of its port development project - paid for mainly by the UK, and tourism promotion.
Montserrat has been heavily reliant on UK and EU funding ever since suffering severe economic disruption and social displacement caused by the catastrophic of its Soufriere Hills volcano over a 15-year span starting in 1995.
The island's new Premier, Easton Taylor-Farrell, has spoken of the need for some specifics on how the vital EU funding gap for his island will be filled by the UK, especially after the current EU funding round expires.
Regarding funding especially, the British government of Prime Minister Johnson has repeated a commitment by the previous Theresa May administration that; “projects for the OTs under these funding streams will continue to be covered by the EU for their duration.”
Looking at opportunities possibly arising from Brexit, Montserrat's Premier Taylor-Farrell said that with the planned upgrade to the island's port facilities, his government is exploring having Montserrat as a springboard for British companies developing further trade with the Caribbean.
His British Virgin Islands counterpart, Andrew Fahie, has similar concerns over funding, plus he also wants to maintain direct contact with the EU in several areas.
In an extensive statement on Brexit and its implications for the BVI, Mr Fahie addressed, among other areas, the BVI losing its Associate Status in the EU as one of the Overseas Countries and Territories (OCTs) directly associated with the bloc and EU funding.
“This is very unfortunate since the BVI is eligible for little other development assistance,” he stated.
Premier Fahie said he has had talks with UK government officials “to get clarifications and assurances on the implementation period and upcoming UK consultations with the Overseas Territories on their priorities for negotiations with the EU.”
He said, “It has been made clear to the UK that the BVI wishes to retain as many of the benefits and privileges that we currently enjoy with the EU, including visa-free travel and tariff and quota-free trade, among other things.”
The British Virgin Islands Premier also pointed out that, “in terms of replacement EU funding, he has officially recommended to the UK that it create a Sustainable Development Fund for all Overseas Territories from which to fund climate change, biodiversity and sustainable energy projects.”
“This is particularly important,” he noted, “since the BVI is not eligible for funds elsewhere.”
Like the Cayman Islands and Montserrat, the BVI has indicated an interest in exploring opportunities for international trade presented by Brexit as the UK seeks out new trading partners.
The BVI leader said his territory will continue to be fully engaged with the EU on a range of areas including, the EU list of non-cooperative tax jurisdictions, membership in the Overseas Countries and Territories Association (OCTA) as an Associate Member to maintain a political presence in Brussels.
The BVI is also seeking Associate Membership in CARIFORUM, the Caribbean’s negotiating body on EU matters and Premier Fahie said once that is approved, “we will begin to engage the EU on various matters involving trade and development alongside our Caribbean neighbours.”
Premier Sharlene Cartwright Robinson of the Turks and Caicos Islands had previously outlined how her territory could benefit from Brexit.
"We believe that with the UK leaving the EU, there’s an opportunity for the UK to have that direct funding with us, she stated in an interview with the UK's Guardian newspaper.
"We feel this is a good opportunity for a straight face-to-face relationship with the UK.
The Turks and Caicos leader said: "Looking at post-Brexit, there is going to be a lot of flight capital and we’re standing ready.
"We know there are a lot of opportunities for business people here. I know we can benefit because after the UK leaves the EU it will be more welcoming in that sense.”
In the case of Anguilla, speaking recently during a forum on 'Whither Anguilla in Brexit', Premier Victor Banks asked: “What is all the fuss about?”
"Will Brexit impact our progress towards a greater level of autonomy and self-reliance? Will it change our colonial relationship? Will it change the social, economic and historical relationship that we have with territories of EU Member States with whom we have borders? Like St. Maarten-St. Martin as well as St. Barths?"
According to Premier Banks, "If none of the foregoing is going to change then Anguilla will be heading towards the same goals and aspirations for our national development that we have embraced before Brexit.
"However," he added, "if the issues prove challenging, in any new agreement/arrangement there will be good reason for Anguilla to accelerate its movement towards constitutional advancement and economic transformation/development."
Meanwhile, for Bermuda the issue also seems less concerning.
In an interview last December with the UK's Sky News, Premier David Burt outlined his territory's position:
“Bermuda is less affected than some other overseas territories as we do not receive aid from the European Union," he stated.
“Additionally, we have relations with the European Union that are outside that from the United Kingdom.
"As I said there are only two countries in the world that have regulatory equivalence with both the EU and the United States, being Bermuda and Switzerland.”
“That is something that Bermuda has outside of Brexit, and after Brexit that’s something that the United Kingdom will have to get on its own,” the Bermuda Premier said.
The UK and the EU will now move to the next phase which is negotiations on a trade deal. That of itself will hold implications for the OTs, deal or no deal.
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