The UK’s Coalition government is “putting its money where its mouth is” when it comes to British overseas territories, according to Foreign Minister Henry Bellingham. These are the key points of a speech he gave in the Cayman Islands on 19 April 2012:
“I am an absolute passionate advocate for the Overseas Territories. When I was appointed to the Foreign Office in May 2010, I was determined that one of the portfolios in my brief was going to be the Overseas Territories. For me it was a dream that came true.
“One of the first discussions I had with our Foreign Secretary William Hague and with our Prime Minister was actually about the Overseas Territories. Many of them are of key strategic importance. Many of them are absolutely vital in terms of Britain’s reputation for the environment and biodiversity. Did you know that 90 percent of the UK’s biodiversity is in the Overseas Territories?
“We are going to engage the territories far more. We’re going to take them seriously. We will engage you, we will work with you, and we will invest in you.
“I do want to see more trade between Britain and the Territories. But I will also say that where things go wrong, we will invest. We have invested very heavily in the Turks and Caicos Islands where as you know there was a terrible financial scandal. Without the Department for International Development, without DFID coming up with a loan guarantee of a quarter of a billion dollars, the TCI government would not have been able to continue.
We’re building a new airport on St Helena, we’re investing in Montserrat, in Pitcairn. We’re really putting our money where our mouth is.
“We want more UK companies to engage with the territories. We want to see increased links between organisations in the UK and the territories, between schools and colleges, and professional bodies.
“One of the other key aspects of this White Paper is we want other government departments to really engage with the territories.
“We also want to build stronger political-level links between the UK and the territories. We recognise that the elected leaders are the driving force for change in the territories. We therefore want to strengthen the workings of the annual meeting between territory leaders and UK ministers in London to help us push forward the implementation of the strategy.
“That is why in the future we are going to have a joint ministerial council that will be able to meet and there will be a reinvigorated overseas territories council.
“In return, we also want a few things back.
“We are very keen to see good governance. We are keen to see the responsible, fiscal, financial management. The UK expects the territories to abide by the same basic standard of governance as in the UK. I don’t think that’s asking very much.
“I want to work together with you in a relationship of trust, in a mature relationship, one based on a true partnership.”
Read the full speech here.
Positive words indeed. A little more openness in HMG’s dealings with the OTs would also help. I’m told communications between HMG and the OTs cannot be accessed under the Freedom of Information Act. This lack of transparency is not helpful, because it is easy to infer that there must be something HMG wishes to hide.
John Turner, St Helena
Random Thoughts From Offshore (blog)
(Editor’s note: my own experience is that HMG tried hard to answer a Freedom of Information request about St Helena, but had to put in time getting clearance from Jamestown. Other readers, it should be said, have greeted this speech with strong scepticism).
Henry Bellingham MP