What is the UK’s relationship with the British Overseas Territories?

This is the second of a five-part series of pieces highlighting the issues of concern to Liberal Democrat members beyond our shores. For the first in the series, click here

Liberal Democrats Overseas are an active Lib Dem group who support British citizens who live outside of the UK and Europe. We meet via video-conference, we operate online, but we also champion liberal values via events and meetings in countries throughout the world.

One of many areas we support is that of the British Overseas Territories Citizens. One of six types of British Citizens, who are individuals from the British Overseas Territories (OTs).

The OTs are unique. Primarily islands, the 17 territories cover nine time zones from the Atlantic to the Pacific, the Antarctic to the Caribbean. They encompass some of the greatest biodiversity in the world (in fact, over 90% of the UKs biodiversity is based in the Overseas Territories).

Each OT is unique, with different interactions with the UK, different cultural and economic approaches, different geography and climate challenges. Tristan da Cunha is one of the most remote places on earth, the British Antarctic Territory one of the most perilous. The Pitcairn islands have a population of 54 and Henderson is a UNESCO world heritage site. The BVI, Bermuda and the Cayman Islands have competitive financial services industries, whilst the Sovereign Base Areas of Akrotiri and Dhekelia provide vital links for the British military.

These territories are not part of the UK and each has its own constitution, but all share a bond with the UK and deeply-rooted British identities. The UK’s relationship with the OTs combines consistent expectations for the UK to ensure security, access to resources and human rights with the requirement for OTs to be self-governing and to further develop their own cultures. This relationship is embedded in the UK’s obligation under Article 73 of the United Nations Charter to provide for the wellbeing of the inhabitants of the OTs.

For the Overseas Territories, Global Britain is a living reality. They have a valuable part to play in it, and they are focused on Britain’s overseas policies, including Brexit. When looking at Brexit, a significant concern for some OTs (i.e Gibraltar, the Falkland Islands, Anguilla) is how Brexit impacts the direct trade links they have with the EU. Another concern is that the UK will no longer have a voice within the EU on financial services policy, which could impact the reputation and ability of offshore financial centres to do business. However, some see this as an opportunity. With the UK taking a renewed look at its global network some OTs are keen to see how they can benefit from the focus on international trade links.

Earlier this year The House of Commons Foreign Affairs Committee (FAC) published a report on ‘Global Britain and the British Overseas Territories: Resetting the relationship’. The outcome of this report was “On the whole, OT-UK relations are stable but there is some appetite for reform in a number of areas.”. The Liberal Democrats Overseas will be discussing their view on this report and related proposals for the UKs relationship with the OTs at their fringe event at the Autumn conference. The full Lib Dems Abroad paper, which contains more information on the OTs and the FAC report can be viewed here.


The OTs are: Anguilla, Bermuda, the British Antarctic Territory, the British Indian Ocean Territory, the British Virgin Islands, the Cayman Islands, the Falkland Islands, Gibraltar, Montserrat, Pitcairn, St Helena (with Ascension Island and Tristan da Cunha), South Georgia & the South Sandwich Islands, the Sovereign Base Areas, and the Turks & Caicos.

* Caroline Padbury is Head of Media for Lib Dems Overseas, based in the Cayman Islands.

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  • John McHugo 4th Sep '19 - 3:11pm

    With regard to the British Indian Ocean Territory (aka the Chagos Islands) an advisory opinion of the ICJ opines that by turning it into a separate colony before Mauritius became independent , the UK did not complete its obligation to decolonise Mauritius, to which this territory rightly belongs. The UK is thus in breach of international law.

    Is there any party policy on this? It seems to me that as the party of international law we should be asking the government to return the territory to Mauritius, and allow its inhabitants to return. They were evicted so that we could establish a big American base there. There are no doubt defence treaties with the USA covering this, and that might be a complicating factor, but in principle we should surely be advocating handing the territory back to Mauritius.

    A point for negotiation by “Global Britain” in a trade deal with the USA? (Sorry, that is cynical).

  • @JohnMcHugo. I don’t think your comment is cynical – I think it is a valid point to for the party to discuss have a position on.

    As Lib Dems we value the international bodies and the voice of the citizens on the ground. In the case of the Chagos Islands, their citizens were ‘relocated’ … about 3000 live in the UK, others in Mauritius. They experience daily struggles with poverty, in part in the UK because not all have qualified for citizenship – but they are not in a position to return to Chagos (there is only a military base on the island).


    My view is that it is important for us to discuss these situations. Have a clear position for the country and its nationals. Ensure the voice/needs of the BoTs & their inhabitants is heard.

  • While I’m not going comment on specifics I do wonder if we should look to encourage them (and the crown dependencies), with consent of their citizens, into a full federal UK, where they would be able to directly elect an MP, while retaining their local parliaments/governance to deal with their home/local affairs.

  • The combination of lax regulation and London’s financial institutions providing sophisticated methods to launder proceeds from criminal activity around the world, including those from drug trade, makes the City a global hub for illicit finance and London a safe haven for the world’s malfeasants, according to research papers and reports published in the mid-2010s. Since then the banks have stepped up their efforts on all customers no matter how small to enable compliance.

  • I’m a Labour Party member & have major issues with how the LDs have acted in government & opposition post Charles Kennedy. However I’d like to acknowledge your efforts at raising this important matter. I think everyone would benefit from the UK giving equal status to the overseas territories & crown dependencies which are home to over half a million people, are bigger than Northern Ireland (& that’s excl British Antarctic) & have a vital role to play post Brexit in ensuring UK is internationalist, progressive & outward looking. We must address the democratic deficit.

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