By Michael Jarvis, UK Correspondent
Government leaders of the UK’s Overseas Territories (OTs) and the UK ministers and senior officials concluded the 2023 Joint Ministerial Council(JMC) summit held in London (May 11th and 12th) alongside a series of other prior engagements which included attending the coronation of King Charles III.
The highlight of the summit was the announcement of a new UK Government strategy on the Overseas Territories.
Each UK government department will now have an assigned Minister responsible for their department’s relationship with the Territories. These Ministers will meet as a group chaired by the Minister for the Overseas Territories.
ECONOMY AND FINANCE
Under the heading of Economic and Financial resilience, it was noted that the OTs “are building successful and resilient economies” and there was recognition that external shocks, such as the COVID-19 pandemic, the war in Ukraine and natural disasters, can result in significant fiscal and economic challenges and we are working to mitigate the impacts of these shocks.
The UK said it remains committed to meeting “the reasonable needs” of Territories where financial self-sufficiency is not possible, as the Overseas Territories continue to have the first call on the aid budget. It also committed to continue working with the OTs “to explore opportunities for diversification of economies and building economic resilience.”
A new ministerial-level annual dialogue focused on tackling illicit finance has also been launched with the British Virgin Islands offering to host the inaugural meeting of this dialogue, or part of it, later this year.
A technical working group has also been established to look into issues around the implementation of publicly accessible registers of company beneficial ownership, with a special focus on protecting the right to privacy.
In jointly condemning the continuing illegal Russian invasion and attack on attack on Ukraine, the British government said it “welcomes the Overseas Territories’ continued strong commitment and actions in implementing and enforcing sanctions against Russia.”
Emphasis was placed on strengthening the maritime sector given the importance of shipping to the economies of the territories. It was noted that “with over 90% of worldwide traded goods being transported by sea and the reliance on shipping to provide key lifeline services, support tourism and the wider economy.”
Border security and crime prevention also featured prominently on their agenda, with the British government stating “which is why in 23/24 the UK Government is committing over £10m to support OT law enforcement and border security capability and capacity building.”
ENVIRONMENT AND CLIMATE CHANGE
Much attention was also placed on programmes and projects focused on environmental conservation and mitigating the effects of climate change.
“The Overseas Territories are leading on policies to protect unique environments and to address climate change including energy transition,” the communique said, adding that the British government is working with the OTs “to prioritise climate change actions in UK funding,” the communique said.
HEALTHCARE, EDUCATION AND PENSIONS
A recurring issue at the annual JMCs has been a quest by the OTs for further access to the UK’s National Health Service.
Coming out of this year’s summit, the OTs said they “welcomed progress in implementing the long-awaited reforms to the NHS Quota system, which now offers greater flexibility and access”,
There was also a commitment to regular reviews to ensure that the reforms meet individual Territory needs including mental health support.
Two other matters, still not yet fully resolved, are expanding OT student access to education in the UK, and ensuring UK retirees qualify for any increases in state pensions if they choose to relocate to the OTs.
The Territories expressed disappointment over the process for issuing visas for students with British Overseas Territories Citizenship to study in the UK but welcomed a commitment by the British government to resolve it.
And while welcoming the access to tuition fee loans in England for OT students, both parties however acknowledged a concern that students from the OTs do not currently have access to maintenance loans as their UK counterparts.
On the pensions matter, the UK would only state that it “acknowledge(s) a concern raised by some Overseas Territories on the uprating of State Pensions for residents who worked in the UK and then return to their territory on retirement.”
Regarding self-determination, both parties “reaffirmed the importance of promoting the right of self-determination for the peoples of the Territories.”
It was also noted that for those Territories with permanent populations who wish it, the UK will continue to support requests for their removal from the United Nations list of non-self-governing Territories.
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