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UK Labour Gov’t can mend fences with Caribbean territories

E. Benito Wheatley is a Continuing Policy Fellow at Centre for Science and Policy at the University of Cambridge. Photo: Provided
E. Benito Wheatley

The Labour Party's landslide victory at the polls presents a fresh opportunity for the United Kingdom to establish a genuine modern partnership with the Overseas Territories (OTs) after 14 years of Conservative Party rule in which the relationship with the Territories was severely strained by heavy-handed UK Government policies and actions that smacked of colonialism, particularly in the Caribbean where Anguilla, Bermuda, Virgin Islands, Cayman, Montserrat and Turks and Caicos Islands.

It also did not help that four OT Ministers were appointed between 2021 and 2024 due to UK political instability.

Late in the previous British Government’s term, efforts were made by former OT Ministers Lord Goldsmith and David H. Rutley to repair the relationship, which achieved limited success.

The UK and OTs did adopt a Joint Declaration in December 2023 that sought to reframe the relationship and encourage the UK Government to consult the Territory Governments on decisions affecting them in order to avoid future impositions and heavy-handed policies.

The Joint Declaration was also meant to improve the UK's international reputation at the United Nations (UN), Caribbean Community (CARICOM) and Organisation of Eastern Caribbean States (OECS) where it was perceived that the UK had reverted to its imperialist past.

Plans to publish a new OT strategy to guide UK policy going forward were never realised as the electoral clock ran out on Ministers.

The gap left by the Conservatives leaves an opportunity for the new Labour Government under the leadership of Prime Minister Rt Hon Sir Keir R. Starmer and Foreign Secretary Rt Hon David Lammy to consider their own strategy toward the OTs, which could involve a much better balance in the UK-OT relationship if Labour genuinely wants to improve things.

At the same time, Labour must be careful to not simply see the OTs through the narrow prism of Gibraltar and the Falklands that are the only two Territories mentioned in the party's manifesto by name and to whom a commitment was made to their defense and right to self-determination. These commitments, however, should be affirmed for all of the inhabited Territories.

The new Labour Government must also not limit the scope of their engagement with the other OTs, particularly in the Caribbean, to company transparency, corporate taxation, security, and marine biodiversity.

To do so would be to repeat the mistake of the Conservatives who narrowly focused on these issues and overlooked the islands as communities of real people living normal lives, who have their own daily challenges as well as aspirations for themselves and their societies.

Critical areas for stronger UK-OT cooperation are climate change, sustainable development, economic resilience, security, democratic governance, and self-determination, which should take into consideration regional specificities.

More immediately, the UK and Caribbean Territories must collaborate on disaster preparedness and emergency response as the highly active Atlantic hurricane season progresses after Hurricane Beryl.

These key areas can also serve as the basis for a new modern partnership between the UK and OTs in which each Territory can thrive and go on to achieve its highest aspirations, supported by the UK in its role as Administering Power.

For a genuine change in the UK’s relationship with the Territories, the new Labour Government and OTs must seize the opportunity to genuinely reset the relationship through proper consultation on UK policy and strategy and OT needs and aspirations.

The UK will also have to tangibly demonstrate its commitment by making available access to the technical assistance and financial resources needed by each inhabited Territory to help them meet their full potential.

The opportunity is now for the UK and OTs to establish a new modern partnership that is fit for purpose in the post-Brexit and post-Conservative era.

E. Benito Wheatley is a Continuing Policy Fellow at Centre for Science and Policy at the University of Cambridge. Feedback can be provided at  

3 Responses to “UK Labour Gov’t can mend fences with Caribbean territories”

  • Maria Louisa Varlack (05/07/2024, 16:10) Like (2) Dislike (2) Reply
    how can a very tiny nation such as the british virgin islands become independent of the united kingdom? british colonialsim existed in india. now there remain very few british territories, but they are very tiny nations with very little resources to become independent of the united kingdom so therefore i do not quite understand the criticism of british colonialism.
  • OT needs and aspirations. (05/07/2024, 16:59) Like (0) Dislike (0) Reply
    Is this more talk. Pass a cannabis bill. We are in the stone age.
  • ccc (06/07/2024, 09:36) Like (0) Dislike (0) Reply
    we need our freedom and independence

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