Global Britain, contested spaces, and the UK Overseas Territories – new report published. Photo shows police on the beat in GibraltarPolice on the beat in Gibraltar, taken in 2009. [photo contributor: dbtravel / Alamy Stock]

A new report has been published on the existing and future relationship between the UK and its Overseas Territories, within the frame of ‘Global Britain’. This is the culmination of a period of research, which has been well-supported by The Round Table, including special issues on Gibraltar and the Falkland Islands. The report can also be seen as a prelude to a high-profile inquiry due to be undertaken by the Public Administration and Constitutional Affairs Committee of the House of Commons in the Autumn. Much of the material in the report was raised and debated in a workshop organised in March, which brought together key stakeholders from government, civil society, and academia.

Since the decision of the UK to leave the EU, the UK Government has established and promoted the idea of ‘Global Britain’. Perhaps the clearest, but still largely unrecognised, manifestations of Global Britain are the UK’s Overseas Territories. The Territories provide the UK with significant global reach. However, the UK’s sovereignty over several of them is contested.

Special 2021 Round Table Journal edition on Gibraltar
Special edition introduction – Facing challenges: a multidisciplinary overview of Gibraltar through its past, present and post-Brexit future
Launch of The Round Table Special Section – ‘Falkland Islands: 40 years on’

The purpose of this report is to consider two key questions. First, what are the central aspects of the relationship between the UK and its Territories and how can they be enhanced? Second, how can the Territories support and enrich Global Britain? The report does this by focusing on the most important aspects of the relationship, highlighting the existing state of affairs, and proposing changes or suggesting further avenues of enquiry, which the authors believe would be beneficial to consider. Due to the diversity among the Territories and the differential relationships between them and the UK, the report does its best to recognise the divergencies and nuances of policy and approach, but on some occasions, where apt, generalisations are made.

Because of Brexit and the notion of Global Britain there is an increasing amount of chatter, at least in some Territories, about what opportunities there might be for constitutional reform. The report argues that an open and wide-ranging approach should be taken, although there is need for confidence-building measures and a recognition that the UK might become less involved if further autonomy is secured. The report also suggests that changes can be made in the ways in which Westminster and Whitehall oversee and engage with the Territories. Under the umbrella of more effective governance the Territories should consider how Belongerships and the role of local legislatures can be enhanced. In relation to economic matters, there are significant vulnerabilities and development challenges in many Territories. More should be done to explore options for diversification, particularly in relation to climate change and environmental protection. Also, media and telecommunication links, including with the BBC, ought to be rethought.

UK Parliament Public Administration and Constitutional Affairs Committee’s inquiry on The Status of the UK’s Overseas Territories in the 21st Century
A New Scenario for British Overseas Territories and Crown Dependencies? – 2017
Corruption allegations in the British Virgin Islands – a sense of déjà vu – 2022
Brexit and the Commonwealth – 2020

The environment is a key consideration because 94% of the biodiversity within the UK is located in the Territories. The report argues that the UK Government could play more of a role in supporting the critical environmental challenges facing the Territories. Similarly, in the area of social policy, the UK could take a more active role in supporting Territory efforts to strengthen education and training opportunities, job creation, and tangible and productive links to the diaspora. Issues related to human rights, particularly in the Caribbean Territories, are more contentious, but there are opportunities for more effective cooperation between the Territories and UK. Finally, security and defence matters. These are clearly an important component of the relationship, but there are threats too. The UK’s exit from the EU has made its position less secure when it comes to the sovereignty of Gibraltar, the Falkland Islands, and even the Sovereign Base Areas in Cyprus, and further steps need to be taken to bolster the UK’s diplomatic standing.

Peter Clegg is Professor of Politics and Dean & Head of the School of Social Sciences at the University of the West of England, Bristol, UK and a member of the Round Table editorial board. Dr Kate Matheson is with the University of the West of England and Dr Maria Mut Bosque is with the  Universitat Internacional de Catalunya.