By Michael L Jarvis, London UK
Across the Caribbean Overseas Territories especially, there's rejection of a recommendation by the British parliament’s Foreign Affairs Committee for British citizens to have the right to vote and hold elected office in the islands.
There's similar resistance to, and resentment of, recommendations for same-sex marriage and public registers of beneficial ownership (as previously reported).
But these individual ripples are yet to be harnessed and articulated into a single unified wave in response to the FAC’s recommendation on matters which the OTs find incompatible - some bordering on unpalatable.
The FAC is adamant that British citizens should have an accelerated right to vote and be able to hold political office in the territories.
In strongly-worded recommendations on this matter, it goes as far pointing to what it is questioning existing Crown-assented/British-government-approved legislation in the territories over voting rights.
In bold letters, it demands that: “The UK Government should initiate a consultation with the elected governments of the OTs and work with them to agree 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 in territory.”
A 2012 White Paper stated the UK Government’s belief that “people who have made their permanent home in the OTs should be able to vote, but recognises the desire of island communities to maintain their cohesion and hence the need for a reasonable qualifying process.”
The OT governments which have commented publicly on the report share similar concerns individually about this issue.
For them, it sets a worrying and disruptive precedent in the local political architecture.
The Cayman Islands has flatly rejected it as have Bermuda and the Turks and Caicos Islands.
The British Virgin Islands, which has since elected a new government, had told the FAC during the inquiry that its constitution “recognizes the distinctive character and culture of the BVI and seeks to ensure its protection”.
Anguilla and Montserrat had also voiced their concerns during the inquiry.
It was also during the inquiry last year that the FCO referred to a 2012 White Paper which states the UK Government’s belief that people who have made their permanent home in the OTs should be able to vote.
But, noted the FCO, it recognises the desire of island communities to maintain their cohesion and hence the need for a reasonable qualifying process.
Who determines that ‘reasonable qualifying process’ and whether or not it will be uniform across the OTs if the recommendations are accepted by the British government, is left to be, well, determined.
In the meantime, while there is a broad commonality in the response by the OTs, a public unified position is lacking.
The FAC focuses its recommendations on the OTs by treating them as a single entity.
The OTs need to adopt that approach as a strategy for a unified response.
It must also be noted that elements of difference in voting rights and voter qualification exist even between the OTs themselves.
Could it be that harmonisation begins at home...amongst the OTs themselves?
This level of collaboration is long overdue and an opportunity for cooperation beyond the ‘restrictions’ and limitations of the annual Joint Ministerial Council (JMC) between the OTs and the British government.
It might take ramping up the existing UK Overseas Territories Association (UKOTA) into a more dynamic forum to coordinate collaboration on this and a host of other possibilities for cooperation, even at the OTs own regional levels.
The FAC’s aim of ‘Resetting the Relationship between the OTs and the UK could be a cue for the OTs to deepen the relationship amongst themselves.
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