By Michael Jarvis, UK Correspondent
Coming out of this year’s UK Overseas Territories recent Joint Ministerial Summit (JMC), Cayman and other OTs will be placed under a new oversight system with a new Sub-Committee to address what has been described as “the unique challenges of the 14 Overseas Territories”.
The new House of Commons sub-committee will however mainly address issues of how the British government’s Foreign, Commonwealth and Development Office (FCDO) handles the affairs of the islands under its portfolio.
The FCDO which replaced the previous Foreign and Commonwealth Office(FCO) is charged with the management of relations with Britain’s remaining territories which include the Cayman Islands.
This Sub-Committee will examine how the FCDO manages its relationships with Overseas Territories and ask how the British government is performing against its priorities outlined in its 2012 Overseas Territories Strategy.
According to a statement from the FCDO, it will also hold evidence sessions, roughly every two months, focusing on either an Overseas Territory or a cross-cutting theme.
Chair of the new Sub-Committee on the Overseas Territories, Alicia Kearns (Conservative MP) about what she described as "the lack of attention that Overseas Territories receive from the (British) Government and Parliament”. She said the new structure will allow the OTs to explore what the relationship with London means for them.
"British Overseas Territories are part of the British family, yes they are hugely diverse, each with their own unique culture, traditions and ecosystems, but the UK government has responsibility to them all and Parliament must play its part in holding the government to account.”
The OT’s Sub-committee chair also observed that there has been a lack of parliamentary engagement with Overseas Territories in the past and noted that it has been over a decade since the British Government released a paper on its approach to Overseas Territories.
Comparing how other countries with remaining territories relate to them (mainly the French and Dutch in the Caribbean) MP Kearns also noted that they “have done a far better job than the UK at ensuring that parliaments provide a forum for residents of Overseas Territories to discuss areas of concern.”
She further stressed that government departments, especially the FCDO must be held accountable for their relationships with the Overseas Territories.
Earlier this year the Conservative MP led a debate in the UK Parliament calling on the British government to ensure that the rights of people in the territories are protected, their sovereignty defended, and to consider the unique circumstances of each territory when shaping policy that impacts them.
There have been several debates in recent years in both the British House of Commons and the House of Lords on the nature of the relationship between the UK and its Overseas Territories. That has come in the wake of the post-Brexit declaration of a ‘global Britain’ with questions on how the OTs fit into that policy outlook.
Currently there are two ongoing additional inquiries into aspects of the relationship between the UK and the OTs.
It was not clear what would become of those inquiries or if their findings would be incorporated into the agenda of the new House of Commons Overseas Territories Sub-Committee.
Among key issues of concern for many OTs are the continuing issues surrounding the matter of registers of beneficial ownership, particularly for territories reliant on the financial services sector, and the extensive powers vested in the British-appointed Governors.
The annual UK/Overseas Territories Joint Ministerial Council (JMC)is an important policy-making and collaborative forum between the OT leaders and top-level British Cabinet ministers and other officials in the FCDO administrative directive.
Cayman was absent at Cabinet level from this year’s JMC due to political upheavals at home which resulted in a change of government.
There are 14 UK Overseas Territories with a total population of around 270,000 people, most of whom are British citizens. Most Territories have elected assemblies and their own constitution. Each Territory has a UK Government-appointed Governor, who generally holds responsibility for managing the Territory’s external affairs, defence and internal security, and often the power to make or veto laws.
In the UK's government apparatus, the Foreign, Commonwealth and Development Office (FCDO) is the lead department for Overseas Territories.