British parliamentarian Andrew Rosindell has appealed for more support from the UK government help the Overseas Territories cope with the COVID-19 crisis.
He was at the time taking part in an online forum on the subject organised by the UK charity, Friends of the British Overseas Territories (FOTBOT) in which Cayman Islands MLA Austin Harris was also a participant. Mr Harris is the current Honorary President of FOTBOT.
Other panellists were former Bermuda Premier Hon. Michael Dunkley MP, and FOTBOT trustee Albert Poggio OBE (Honorary Rep. of Gibraltar).
“I think that during this time it’s really important that we don’t forget the Overseas Territories," Mr Rosindell declared during the discussion.
"I think at this time we are all focusing on what’s happening in our communities in the UK and it’s easy to forget that we have a wider family to think about.
“If we can’t come together as a family and help each other now, when can we do so?" asked the British MP who chairs the UK parliament’s All-Party Group on the Overseas Territories.
He wondered “if the UK government does have a plan to be there for Overseas Territories if they need us in a situation like this?”
UK SUPPORT TO DATE
The British Government’s website GOV.UK has reported that there has been support for the Caribbean Overseas Territories with the COVID-19 pandemic.
This has been in the form of assistance with specialist medical equipment including the in-demand PPE (personal protective equipment) for healthcare staff, testing kits and other vital medical supplies.
Public Health England has also been involved in the Cayman Islands where a visiting team of experts have assisted with the commissioning of that territory’s on-island COVID-19 testing apparatus.
British naval and security teams have also been despatched to the Caribbean OTs for the annual hurricane season preparedness and also this time are assisting with security training and border security issues.
The UK Minister responsible for the Overseas Territories, Baroness Liz Sugg has held teleconferences with leaders of the OTs and has tweeted about assistance being provided in the fight against the virus.
Meanwhile, the UK government's procurement agency Crown Agents have been appointed by the Foreign and Commonwealth Office of the UK Government "to procure goods required to support the response to the Covid-19 outbreak in the UK Overseas Territories."
From the perspective of the Cayman Islands, MLA Austin Harris reported that there has been a high level of support for Cayman from the UK.
“I think the relationship between the Cayman Islands and the UK has been excellent," he said.
“We’ve had tremendous UK/Cayman collaboration and partnership particularly through His Excellency Governor Martyn Roper…which has enabled the Cayman Islands to provide assistance to other Overseas Territories.”
Commenting on the steps taken in Cayman to manage the crisis and mitigate its effects, Mr Harris reported that the focus here has been on placing “life over economics.”
Noting that the crisis has had “a devastating effect on the economy of the Cayman Islands,” he said, "if we look at the numbers from the date when the territory’s international borders were closed, Cayman has had no tourism whatsoever.”
“This creates the knock-on effect of higher unemployment with the need for government to increase its own expenditure to support the recovery of those most affected.”
While updating the panel that Cayman was now at Phase One of re-opening its economy, the Cayman Islands MLA noted that the territory was “very much at the mercy of the success that other jurisdictions have in eliminating the virus which would then give us the confidence necessary to reopen our borders to the larger, wider, international economy.”
Barring the reservations expressed, there were also reports from the panellists of Bermuda and Gibraltar on areas of cooperation between the UK and their territories.
UK MP Andrew Rosindell, while stating that he was yet to hear how each OT was handling the crisis, he was nevertheless encouraged to hear from Gibraltar, Bermuda and the Cayman Islands that things are going in the right direction.
He however reiterated what he said was a long term concern:
"If we can’t come together as a family and help each other now, when can we?" he asked.
"So I do worry about if the UK actually has a plan to be there for the Overseas Territories when they need us in a situation like this.”
Mr Rosindell felt “this will only be known fully when the crisis is over and is properly investigated.”
MLA Harris felt it might be too early to give a full assessment of the level off COVID-19 support from the UK to the OTs.
“I think it might be too early to tell just yet,” he said, but added, “I think we are off to a great start.”
The wide-ranging discussion also addressed the implications of the COVID-19 pandemic for the economies of the OTs, shared experiences of how they are managing the crisis, the healthcare impact - especially on mental health - and support for the vulnerable.
"We are all in the exact same boat together," was the assessment of MLA Harris on how the crisis is affecting the OTs and the UK.
The webinar was hosted by FOTBOT's founder and CEO, Philip Smith.