By Michael Jarvis, London UK
From Britain to the Overseas Territories(OTs) New Year and Christmas messages by the various leaders were replete with commitments and morale-boosting pledges for development.
From the Brexit to Britain to disaster recovery and expanding on growth in OTs, in just about every challenge the gospel of opportunity was preached.
We took a snapshot of what’s on offer.
British Prime Minister Boris Johnson is brimming with confidence having just won by an unexpectedly comfortable margin, an election called after less than six months since he took over the reins of office.
In his 2020 New Year message Mr Johnson welcomed the new year as a new era.
For him, it’s not a Brexit-beleaguered Britain but a Brexit-bolstered Britain poised to capitalise on opportunities the split from the European Union (EU) will bring.
The next phase is scheduled for this month-end with the separation will be formalised before crucial negotiations begin on a trade deal.
“We can start a new chapter in the history of our country, in which we come together and move forward united, unleashing the enormous potential of the British people,” Prime Minister Johnson stated.
Two issues were predominant in his address which brimmed with confidence; Brexit and the National Health ServiceI(NHS) - although his opponents suggest that his unbridled optimism it’s more about himself and fails to fully address the challenges the country faces.
“The loudest message I heard during the election campaign is that people expect us – expect me – to protect and improve the NHS. The NHS is a wonderful British invention, there for us and our families when we are ill, whatever our background and regardless of ability to pay.”
Mr Johnson is also clearly aware that his despite his barnstorming 80-seat majority, there is still a swathe of the population who might still be sceptical. “I want to reassure you that I will be a Prime Minister for everyone, not just those who voted for me.
“I want to work with you, as friends and equals, as we build the future this United Kingdom deserves,” he pledged.
The challenge - and opportunity - is for the Overseas Territories(OTs) to firmly fit themselves into this future for the UK as envisaged by Prime Minister Johnson as real partners.
On the back of the UK Foreign Affairs Committee’s OTs/UK inquiry and report titled “Resetting the Relationship”, one would have to look very hard beyond the handful of recommendation accepted by the previous UK government to find indications of what that future holds.
A review of Christmas and New Year messages of mainly the Caribbean OTs shows an understandable preoccupation with pressing local matters, but hardly if any, UK/OTs relationship mentions beyond brief references to constitutional reform and aid in specific cases.
For the Cayman Islands with elections due by 2021, Premier Alden McLaughlin, reflected in his Christmas message: “I believe most would agree, our Islands are in a far better place today than we were when I first took office as Premier in 2013.
“Over the remaining seventeen months of this term, I intend, along with my Government, to ‘roll up our sleeves’ and work even harder to ensure that a progressive Cayman provides opportunities for all Caymanians, regardless of social standing, now and into the future.
In a New Year’s statement he highlighted two areas where UK relations with the Cayman Islands could come into play; constitutional change and same-sex marriage.
On constitutional change he noted: “These reforms will provide us with increased autonomy and underscore our right to manage our own affairs without undue interference by the UK. They also mark the continued acknowledgement by Her Majesty’s Government that the Cayman Islands has developed as a mature, self-governing democracy.”
On the delicate same-sex issue: “Regarding ‘same sex partnerships’ as I have said previously it is important that legislators determine the best way forward for our Islands and find a solution that works for Caymanians. If we abrogate our responsibility to do so, we must accept that the UK will legislate for these islands as the Court of Appeal has suggested they do. That would be the worst possible result for these Islands, not just with regard to same-sex partnerships, but more generally,” Premier McLaughlin stated.
In Anguilla, where elections are due this year, Premier Victor Banks, was in full campaign mode and his island’s continuing recovery after the 2017 disastrous hurricane season, much of that recovery is UK aid-funded.
“Even though the recovery process was a tremendous success we understood quite clearly then that there would still be some difficult times ahead. However, as we did over the past four years our Government demonstrated our ability to find ways and means to make positive things happen. We have had our delays in implementation but we have remained focused."
Montserrat’s new government took office less than three months ago.
Premier Easton Taylor-Farrell assured his citizens; "We plan to build on the projects already in progress, and at the same time roll out some key priority areas.
”Job creation is one of my government’s key priorities if we are to improve livelihoods, and retain and expand the population which is vital for economic growth.”
With Montserrat heavily reliant on UK aid in its long-drawn-out recovery from the ravages of a volcanic eruption, Mr Taylor-Farrell emphasised that “Montserrat will never be viable if we depend solely on aid funding. So, in the months ahead, we will reach out beyond the boundaries of aid financing, seeking to attract investment and encourage growth in the private sector.”
British Virgin Islands Premier Andrew Fahie, getting ready to mark his government’s first year in office, painted an optimistic outlook for the territory under his leadership.
“Within the 10 months of taking office, we have accomplished many things together, with a lot still left to be done in this New Year.
“Together as one people, our Vision 2020 is to transform the Territory into a leading regional economy by 2025 through Entrepreneurship, Innovation, Local and Foreign Investment.”
Over in the Turks and Caicos Islands, earlier in December Premier Sharlene Cartwright-Robinson, in an annual national address, listed her government’s achievements after three years in office and ahead of another major statement this January 7th.
These ranged from “critical work ongoing in national security, border protection and immigration” to a range of other portfolio areas from constitutional review to education, health, tourism and the economy.
“On January 7, 2020, we will set out, as you have become accustomed, our record of work across Government. Hold us into account,” she declared pointing to her government’s Vision 2040 National Plan.
Meanwhile, in Bermuda, amidst the seasonal cheer, Premier David Burt offered: “Despite the challenges that our island faces, we are truly a blessed country and we have much to be thankful for.
“As Christ was a symbol of God’s love, in Bermuda we need more love in our homes, in our communities, in our schools, in our workplaces, and in our government.”
All in all, an abundance of positivity prevailing in sometimes even the most challenging of circumstances.
A new year, a new decade for the UK and the OTs, and in many instances a lot of new beginnings.