UK Overseas Territories can’t be ‘forgotten’ during Brexit

How many things can you name that have been mentioned in the Brexit negotiations?

You might respond with the Irish Border, or the European Courts of Justice, or the ‘new customs partnership’.

But you probably won’t mention the UK’s 14 Overseas Territories.

From Anguilla in the tropical Caribbean, to tiny Pitcairn in the Indian Ocean; they all rely on the EU in some unique way.

This link comes from the UK’s membership of the EU, and a document called the ‘Overseas Association Decision’, signed in 2013.

“It deals with a number of things,” explained Dr Peter Clegg. He is a Professor of Politics at the University of the West of England.

“It focuses on economic co-operation, on trade, on aid policy, on environmental co-operation, on small and medium size enterprise development.

“It’s a document that basically defines the overall nature of the relationship that the Overseas Territories have with the EU.”

In other words, the OTs all have access to the Single Market, have freedom of movement for their citizens and get access to the European Development Fund.

And as the Brexit date approaches and the UK prepares to leave, the future for the territories remains uncertain.

Trade is the top concern for the Falkland Islands, with around 80% of their total trade going to the EU.

Their fishing industry makes up 50% of the Island’s GDP – which is in the region of around £120 million, according to the Falkland Islands government.

Teslyn Barkman is the member of the Falkland Islands’ Assembly with responsibility for the economy and fisheries.

“We provide about 19% of [The EU’s] total demand,” she explained, talking about squid caught by Falkland Islands fisheries.

Their product is in particularly high demand in Spain and Italy.

But an end to free trade and the possibility of tariffs or quotas is now a day to day worry.

Ms Barkman said: “People who rely on the fishing industry, or have fishing companies, for example, are day to day very concerned.

“Agriculture is our second largest employer…having that diversification option there is so important.

“That’s not something that people would like to lose out on.”

Concerns go further than trade

In September 2017, the Caribbean was devastated by Hurricane Irma.

UK Overseas Territories like the British Virgin Islands and Anguilla were badly damaged, and required millions of pounds worth of support from the UK Government in the immediate aftermath.

But more long term funding came from the European Union.

As recently as February, Anguilla received €2.8 million to rebuild schools on the island.

Other Overseas Territories have also benefited.

The Pitcairn Island’s received €2.4 million from the EU in the most recent round of funding.

Ascension Islands, Tristan da Cunha and St Helena received more than €20 million.

The UK Government have said that they’ll match any funding lost before the end of the most recent EU Development Fund round, which ends in 2020.

But there’s no guarantee of any funding beyond this point.

Dr Peter Clegg believes that this is a “real concern” for the Overseas Territories.

“With likely a significant economic impact on the UK as a consequence of Brexit,” he says there’ll be a “tightening of government spending across the board.”

Dr Clegg thinks that this will be means that funding for the UK Overseas Territories might “not be a particular priority” for the government.

The political process

The UK Overseas Territories meet on a semi regular basis with the UK Government through a body called the Joint Ministerial Council.

But some in Westminster believe that the Overseas Territories are already bottom of the agenda.

Admiral Lord West, a veteran of the Falklands War and a Labour politician, believes it’s vital that the UK remembers the OTs during the negotiations.

He said: “We’ve got to remember we’re not just doing a trade deal for [the] UK, we’re doing a trade deal for our overseas territories as well.

“We can’t just forget them.

“They’ve got to be absolutely a part of that deal and I’m not quite sure how much of that involvement there has been at the moment.”

The Foreign Office and the Department for Exiting the EU insist that the overseas territories are a major part of the Brexit negotiations.

Overseas Territories are next set to meet the Joint Ministerial Council in June.

Until then, representatives like Teslyn Barkman will continue to make their case with the UK Government and the EU.

She said: “I’d like to think that very reasonable people will sit around the table and come up with a reasonable option.

“I put a lot of faith in that because I think that is the sensible thing to have happen.”

 

You can listen to my documentary on Brexit and the UK Overseas Territories here:

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