Soon after becoming Foreign Secretary I announced a thorough review of the relationship between Britain and what were then called the Dependent Territories. The review has been a recognition of the importance which the Government places on that relationship, and a sign of our determination to get it in the best possible shape for the future.
During the review we have consulted widely. We have spoken with governments, opposition leaders and governors of the Overseas Territories. We have taken advice from Parliamentary Select Committees and others.
At the Dependent Territories Association Conference last February I gave a progress report and listened carefully to the concerns of other delegates. I made clear that we wanted to make our relationship work better.
The review is now complete. Its aim is a renewed contract between Britain and the Overseas Territories. Its recommendations are contained in this White Paper. They cover a range of issues fundamental to both Britain and the Overseas Territories – the constitutional link; citizenship; the environment; financial standards; good governance and human rights.
The basis for our partnership remains the same as it has for generations – the deep bond of affection and respect that exists between the people of Britain and the peoples of the Overseas Territories.
It is a bond that Britain values highly. It shows how a modern and effective partnership can be built on the foundation of ties that go back centuries.
The principles that underlie our partnership are clear:
- First, our partnership must be founded on self-determination. Our Overseas Territories are British for as long as they wish to remain British. Britain has willingly granted independence where it has been requested; and we will continue to do so where this is an option. It says a lot about the strength of our partnership that all the Overseas Territories want the constitutional link to continue. And Britain remains committed to those territories which choose to retain the British connection.
- Second, the partnership creates responsibilities on both sides. Britain is pledged to defend the Overseas Territories, to encourage their sustainable development and to look after their interests internationally. In return, Britain has the right to expect the highest standards of probity, law and order, good government and observance of Britain’s international commitments.
- Third, the people of the Overseas Territories must exercise the greatest possible control over their own lives. We are proud that our Overseas Territories are beacons of democracy. We applaud their achievements, and want them to have the autonomy they need to continue to flourish.
- Fourth, Britain will continue to provide help to the Overseas Territories that need it. It is a source of much pride that the effectiveness of their governments’ policies has meant that budgetary help is necessary only for Montserrat and St Helena – both for special circumstances.
We are offering British citizenship to those who do not wish to retain their present status, which will give them proper recognition of their British connection.
We are reforming the way that we handle the needs of the Overseas Territories, making sure they have proper points of contact and a clear voice in London and Brussels.
We have appointed a Minister in the Foreign and Commonwealth Office who has specific responsibility for looking after Overseas Territories’ issues, and we will be setting up a Consultative Council with the territories.
We have set out the ways in which the Overseas Territories can ensure good government, a flourishing environment and a growing economy.
Britain welcomes the economic prosperity and development built up by many of the Overseas Territories. Some are among the world leaders in the financial industry. We want those Overseas Territories with financial industries to operate and regulate them to internationally accepted standards. This will enable Britain to meet its own international obligations. It will ensure that we put up a common front against fraudsters, tax evaders, money launderers, regulatory abuse and the drugs trade. And by doing so, we will be securing the future strength of the financial industries of Britain and the Overseas Territories and safeguarding the global financial system.
The publication of this White Paper is a milestone in Britain’s relationship with the Overseas Territories. There is still some detail to be worked out on the proposals it contains, particularly where legislation will be needed to put its ideas into effect.
We are looking forward to continuing our dialogue with the governments and peoples of the Overseas Territories. Working together to implement the proposals in this White Paper, I believe we can lay the basis for a modern partnership.
Partnership for Progress and Prosperity: Britain and the Overseas Territories is available to download below both by chapter and as a full report.