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International 18 Feb, 2020 Follow News


The past few months have seen some quite dramatic shifts in British politics, none more so than within the new government of Prime Minister Boris Johnson.

These are developments that UK’s Caribbean and other Overseas Territories (OTs) will be well-advised to follow closely and plan accordingly.

The sudden resignation of Chancellor of the Exchequer (Finance Minister), Sajid Javid, who held the second most powerful post in the Johnson cabinet, was as unexpected as it was full of drama.

Mr Javid’s abrupt resignation came as he rejected demands to sack all of his advisors, a condition to keep his job he said no self-respecting minister could accept.

The much-debated, reviewed and analysed reshuffle is generally seen as a move by to consolidate power around Number 10 Downing Street, residence and office of the Prime Minister.

It’s a departure from a system which has seen the occupant of Number 11 Downing Street (the Chancellor) functioning with a degree of autonomy and wielding considerable influence over government spending policies.

In the 2019 Autumn Spending Review, a veritable pre-election budget, he had outlined a series of vote-winning sweeteners amidst a spending spree.

While with it’s not known what might have been in the erstwhile Chancellor’s first full budget planned for March, equally uncertain at the moment is what his successor Rishi Sunak is likely to deliver.

Both men from Asian background have records to their names; Sajid Javid is the first person from Britain's Black Asian and Minority Ethnic (BAME) community to hold the job plus, he had the shortest tenure as Chancellor in 50 years.

Rishi Sunak is the second BAME/Asian and youngest to hold the position.

They were both high-flyers in the London financial sector before entering politics.

Prime Minister Johnson now has a tighter grip on budget and spending policies - and Mr Sunak according to some observers).

That's unlike the rifts over budget management which were said to be emerging between him and ex-Chancellor Javid, and especially between Mr Javid and Mr Johnson's main advisor Dominic Cummings, a controversial key influencer in the government's policies and political strategies.

Where the OTs fit into the picture is now even more unclear than what has been speculated for the ex-Chancellor’s planned March budget.

hether new Chancellor Sunak, can deliver the budget - or a budget - in time for March is also uncertain.

While as a former Chief Secretary to the Treasury he would have had significant input into the planning of the budget, it’s expected that he would want to put his stamp on the upcoming budget rather than simply present what his predecessor had authored.

It’s also expected that the Prime Minister might want to make certain politically strategic tweaks to the budget to reflect his personal priorities and commitments, especially now that it’s accepted that Number 11 Downing Street has to all realistic intents and purposes become Number 10B Downing Street.

What’s in it for the OTs?

One of the issues said to have been under consideration is a multi-year special fund for the Overseas Territories of which aid funding is a critical component.

The proposal for a dedicated fund for the OTs was a key issue for the OTs during the 2018/2019 UK parliamentary inquiry and subsequent report 'Global Britain and the Overseas Territories: Resetting the Relationship'.

The funding issue has now become even more urgent with the UK quitting the EU.

The UK has given a commitment that it would take up the slack for ongoing EU funding programs for the OTs for the remainder of their duration - up to the end of this year.

What comes after is subject to the outcome of the trade talks between the UK and the EU, and the UK’s own internal spending priorities.

At present, funding for the OTs falls under the remit of the Department for International Development (DfiD), which reports to its own Secretary of State.

Recently though, there has been much speculation over the future of DfID, with Prime Minister Johnson himself a former Foreign Secretary, suggesting that it be integrated into the Foreign and Commonwealth Office which is directly responsible for the OTs.

DfID manages the UK's annual overseas aid budget of £14 billion.

Mr Johnson himself has had direct experience of the difficulties in channelling UK aid to the OTs from the foreign aid budget in the aftermath of the hurricane disasters of 2016 and 2017.

Administratively, it was comparatively easier to allocate funds to the independent, former British colonies affected by the storms, than to the current territories.

The OTs generally bristle at being labelled ‘foreign’.

At present though, any morphing of DfID and the FCO that seems unlikely as a new Secretary of State for International Development has been installed in Prime Minister Johnson’s much-scrutinised cabinet reshuffle - some pundits have termed it ‘bloodletting’.

From suggesting that DfID isis closed, Mr Johnson has opted to keep it running as a standalone department, after it was reported that he was directly lobbied by a number of leading UK charities.

There will however be even more coordination than before in another shift towards a more centralised and streamlined cabinet evidenced in the reshuffle.

But there’s still pressure on DfID with both Mr Johnson and his new International Development Secretary unified on an approach to aid being in the ‘national interest’ and charity begins at home’ stance.

Anne-Marie Trevelyan is the new International Development Secretary, the seventh in the past ten years under a Tory government, the last one, Alok Sharma served less than a year since his appointment last July.

How the OTs fit into that ‘national interest’ will be critical in terms of how their relationship with global Britain is 'reset', as indicated by the title of the 2019 Foreign Affairs Committee report.

The upcoming budget, whenever it’s delivered, will be a good indicator of the direction of travel.

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