The British once proudly proclaimed, “The sun never sets on British soil” so vast was its colonial empire. The Irish refrain was: “Because God doesn't trust them in the dark.” Trust has been a difficult matter to countenance when involving the UK and its colonial territories since British public pronouncements have often varied wildly from its actions. In this light, the comment last week by Andrew Rosindell, chairman of the UK Overseas Territories Parliamentary Group, that his government wants a “modern relationship not a colonial one” beggars belief.
Britain's credibility regarding Bermuda was vanquished when, during our two most significant struggles for social justice the fight to end racial segregation and the quest for universal suffrage it sat by and made no demonstrable effort to lead. And this is despite signing the UN Charter pledging, under Article 73, it was a “sacred trust” to promote our well-being. This pattern continued for decades. In 1999 there was a re-packaging of the UK-colony relations under New Labour with the seductively labelled “Partnership for Progress” White Paper. All one had to do was actually read the document to see the proposed new relationship had virtually nothing to do with partnering and everything to do with a series of unilateral decisions imposed by the British.
If the UK government is serious about a modern relationship with Bermuda and the other colonies then their actions must be based on a coherent set of principles and they must cease navigating the waters of opportunism and expediency. A good place to start could well be to fix the “democratic deficit” mentioned by Mr Rosindell. The reality is that Bermudians in Bermuda have neither full political rights here nor in the UK: we have no say, for example, in Britain going to war and we do not make our own decisions in the international arena. Mr Rosindell's answer is to form a standing committee of the UK Parliament where Bermuda could have representation. While this may be helpful, it does little to reduce the democratic deficit.
If the UK government is serious about a modern relationship they will end the strategy, bordering on a conspiracy, to encourage Bermudians to acquire a British passport by denigrating the Bermuda passport. Until 2006, Bermuda passport holders could travel without a visa to most countries in Europe and many around the world. This was because of the efforts initiated by former Immigration Minister Sir John Sharpe in the 1980s. A visa regime was imposed on Bermuda for the Schengen countries in Europe solely because in 2006 the UK government incorrectly informed the European Union that Overseas Territories citizens did not have the “right of abode” in the UK. This was four years after the same UK government granted full UK citizenship to all of its colonial subjects. Further, the British have imposed the ridiculous policy of requiring Bermudians to hold a British passport to secure their residency in the UK. If we are British we are British. A British woman born and raised in Liverpool is British whether or not she has a British passport.
A modern relationship should start with respect for the powers the Bermuda Government holds under our Constitution. If those powers are to change it should be the result of a negotiated agreement between the two governments. It certainly should not be singular action by the UK based on what they have referred to as “contingent liability”.
If Mr Rosindell embodies what we can look forward under the relatively new British Government then we have much to be concerned about. When he referred to “Britain fulfilling its responsibilities as the mother country” that comment should have sent a collective shiver felt by all, save for the colonial-minded. One can only speak of the “mother” country with their being a concomitantly clear sense of the child in tow immature, in need of protection and guidance and certainly not equal.
One simply cannot have a modern relationship with a 19th Century ethos.