By Michael Jarvis, London UK
With the United Kingdom now formally no longer a member of the European Union, the two top UK officials with portfolio responsibility for the Overseas Territories have set out to reassure and allay concerns about what this means for UK’s far-flung global outposts.
The UK had previously committed in the Joint Ministerial Council(JMC) to fill funding gaps where the OTs are no longer eligible to participate and benefit from EU-funded projects.
Now, a joint statement by the two top officials in the Foreign and Commonwealth Office(FCO) responsible for the territories have set out to quell any anxieties which might arise, especially now that Brexit has moved from contentious concept to undeniable reality.
Lord Tariq Ahmad of Wimbledon (Minister for the Commonwealth, the UN and South Asia) and Christopher Pincher (Minister for Europe and the Americas) address issues of the OTs relationship with the UK.
These range from citizenship status to funding, trade, and travel, as they relate to individuals and businesses.
“As the United Kingdom Government’s Ministers of State responsible for our Overseas Territories (OTs), a priority for us, and for the entire Government, has been to work closely with Territory leaders to identify the opportunities and concerns in each OT associated with Brexit,” the ministers stated.
“You will be aware of the recent General Election in the United Kingdom, the resulting new dynamics in the United Kingdom’s Parliament and the decisive action of the Prime Minister to press ahead with Brexit.
“United Kingdom is set to leave the EU on 31 January with a deal – the Prime Minister’s newly negotiated Withdrawal Agreement. The Withdrawal Agreement provides for an implementation period lasting until 31 December 2020, a time-limited period of transition before Brexit-related changes take place,” Lord Ahmad and Mr Pincher explained.
To summarise – during the implementation period, your rights and those of your family members will not change, and neither will the relationship OT companies and NGOs have with the EU.
Many of you may be thinking about how Brexit could affect your ability to travel or live abroad. Firstly, we would like to make clear that eligibility criteria for British passports of all types will not be affected by our departure from the EU.
Secondly, the rules on travelling to the EU will remain the same throughout the implementation period. This means British Citizen passport holders will be able to continue to live, work and study in the EU as they do now.
The rights of British Overseas Territory Citizen (BOTC) passport holders – including 90-day visa-free access to the Schengen area in any 180 days – will also not change, either during the implementation period or afterwards.
We fully understand the importance of EU funding for a number of organisations in the Territories.
That is why the United Kingdom Government had agreed to cover EU-funded projects in the OTs under EDF, BEST, Horizon 2020 and Erasmus+ if the EU were to cease payments. As part of the Prime Minister’s deal, there is no longer any risk of this: projects in the OTs under these funding streams will continue to be covered by the EU for their duration.
Businesses in the OTs exporting goods to the EU27 will continue to be able to export tariff and quota-free for the duration of the implementation period.
Tariff and quota-free access to the United Kingdom market for OT goods will continue indefinitely.
While post-2020 access to the EU27 market is a matter for the upcoming negotiations on the Future Partnership, the United Kingdom Government is absolutely committed to seeking the best possible access for OT goods as part of our future relationship with the EU.
During these negotiations the United Kingdom Government will also work to ensure that any post-2020 mobility arrangements agreed with the EU consider the specific needs and requirements of the OTs.
In their joint statement addressing concerns which might arise in the OTs regarding Brexit, Lord Ahmad as Minister for the Commonwealth including the OTs, and Minister for the Americas, Christopher Pincher, declare that they “…want to both assure you and to leave you in no doubt that the United Kingdom is absolutely committed to the safety and prosperity of each of our British OTs.”
“Brexit is no exception to this,” they point out.
With the UK now entering into the critical trade negotiation stage with the EU, Ministers Ahmad and Pincher affirm: “As we head into the next phase of the negotiations and take up the opportunities afforded by our departure from the EU, including the ability to negotiate our own trade agreements around the world, the continuing priority for the United Kingdom Government is to ensure that the voices of our OTs are heard.”
“And that your priorities inform our approach to the negotiations every step of the way,” they conclude.