British Overseas Territories

British Overseas Territories

The British Overseas Territories (BOTs) or United Kingdom Overseas Territories (UKOTs) are 14 territories under the jurisdiction and sovereignty of the United Kingdom. They are remnants of the British Empire that have not been granted independence or have voted to remain British territories. These territories do not form part of the United Kingdom and, with the exception of Gibraltar, are not part of the European Union. Most of the permanently inhabited territories are internally self-governing, with the UK retaining responsibility for defence and foreign relations. Three are inhabited only by a transitory population of military or scientific personnel. They all share the British monarch (Elizabeth II) as head of state.

As of April 2018 the Minister responsible for the Territories excluding the Falkland Islands, Gibraltar and the Sovereign Base Areas on Cyprus, is the Minister of State for the Commonwealth and the UN. The other three territories are the responsibility of the Minister of State for Europe and the Americas.

The term “British Overseas Territory” was introduced by the British Overseas Territories Act 2002, replacing the term British Dependent Territory, introduced by the British Nationality Act 1981. Prior to 1 January 1983, the territories were officially referred to as British Crown Colonies.

Although the Crown dependencies of Jersey, Guernsey, and the Isle of Man are also under the sovereignty of the British monarch, they are in a different constitutional relationship with the United Kingdom. The British Overseas Territories and Crown Dependencies are themselves distinct from the Commonwealth realms, a group of 16 independent countries (including the United Kingdom) each having Elizabeth II as their reigning monarch, and from the Commonwealth of Nations, a voluntary association of 53 countries mostly with historic links to the British Empire (which also includes all Commonwealth realms).


 

Population

With the exceptions of the British Antarctic Territory and South Georgia and the South Sandwich Islands (which host only officials and research station staff) and British Indian Ocean Territory (used as a military base), the Territories retain permanent civilian populations. Permanent residency for the approximately 7,000 civilians living in the Sovereign Base Areas of Akrotiri and Dhekelia is limited to citizens of the Republic of Cyprus.

Collectively, the Territories encompass a population of about 250,000 people and a land area of about 1,727,570 square kilometres (667,020 sq mi). The vast majority of this land area, 1,700,000 square kilometres (660,000 sq mi), constitutes the almost uninhabited British Antarctic Territory, while the largest territory by population, Bermuda, accounts for almost a quarter of the total BOT population.
At the other end of the scale, three territories have no civilian population; the Antarctic Territory, British Indian Ocean Territory (from which the Chagos Islanders were controversially removed) and South Georgia.
The Pitcairn Islands, settled by the survivors of the Mutiny on the Bounty, is the smallest settled territory with 49 inhabitants, while the smallest by land area is Gibraltar on the southern tip of the Iberian peninsula. The United Kingdom participates in the Antarctic Treaty System and, as part of a mutual agreement, the British Antarctic Territory is recognised by four of the six other sovereign nations making claims to Antarctic territory.


 

History

Early colonies, in the sense of English subjects residing in lands hitherto outside the control of the English government, were generally known as “Plantations”.

The first, unofficial, colony was Newfoundland, where English fishermen routinely set up seasonal camps in the 16th century. It is now a province of Canada known as Newfoundland and Labrador. It retains strong cultural ties with Britain.

English colonisation of North America began officially in 1607 with the settlement of Jamestown, the first successful permanent colony in Virginia (a term that was then applied generally to North America). Its offshoot, Bermuda, was settled inadvertently after the wrecking of the Virginia company’s flagship there in 1609, with the Virginia Company’s charter extended to officially include the archipelago in 1612. St. George’s town, founded in Bermuda in that year, remains the oldest continuously inhabited British settlement in the New World (with some historians stating that – its formation predating the 1619 conversion of “James Fort” into “Jamestown” – St. George’s was actually the first successful town the English established in the New World). Bermuda and Bermudians have played important, sometimes pivotal, but generally underestimated or unacknowledged roles in the shaping of the English and British trans-Atlantic Empires.
These include maritime commerce, settlement of the continent and of the West Indies, and the projection of naval power via the colony’s privateers, among other areas.

The growth of the British Empire in the 19th century, to its territorial peak in the 1920s, saw Britain acquire nearly one-quarter of the world’s landmass, including territories with large indigenous populations in Asia and Africa. From the mid-nineteenth century to the early twentieth century, the larger settler colonies – in Canada, Australia, New Zealand and South Africa – first became self-governing colonies and then achieved independence in all matters except foreign policy, defence and trade. Separate self-governing colonies federated to become Canada (in 1867), Australia (in 1901), South Africa (in 1910), and Rhodesia (in 1965). These and other large self-governing colonies had become known as Dominions by the 1920s. The Dominions achieved almost full independence with the Statute of Westminster (1931).

Through a process of decolonisation following the Second World War, most of the British colonies in Africa, Asia and the Caribbean gained independence. Some colonies became Commonwealth realms, retaining the British monarch as their own head of state. Most former colonies and protectorates became member states of the Commonwealth of Nations, a non-political, voluntary association of equal members, comprising a population of around 2.2 billion people.

After the independence of Southern Rhodesia (now Zimbabwe) in Africa in 1980 and British Honduras (now Belize) in Central America in 1981, the last major colony that remained was Hong Kong, with a population of over 5 million. With 1997 approaching, the United Kingdom and China negotiated the Sino-British Joint Declaration, which led to the whole of Hong Kong becoming a “special administrative region” of China in 1997, subject to various conditions intended to guarantee the preservation of Hong Kong’s capitalist economy and its way of life under British rule for at least 50 years after the handover. George Town in the Cayman Islands has consequently become the largest city in the Overseas Territories.

In 2002, the British Parliament passed the British Overseas Territories Act 2002. This reclassified the UK’s dependent territories as overseas territories and, with the exception of those people solely connected with the Sovereign Base Areas of Cyprus, restored full British citizenship to their inhabitants.


 

Government

The head of state in the overseas territories is the British monarch, Elizabeth II. The Queen’s role in the territories is in her role as Queen of the United Kingdom, and not in the right of each territory. The Queen appoints a representative in each territory to exercise her executive power. In territories with a permanent population, a Governor is appointed by the Queen on the advice of the British Government. Currently (2019) all but two Governors are either career diplomats or have worked in other Civil Service departments. The remaining two Governors are former members of the British armed forces.
In territories without a permanent population, a Commissioner is usually appointed to represent the Queen. Exceptionally, in the overseas territory of Saint Helena, Ascension and Tristan da Cunha, an Administrator is appointed to be the Governor’s representative in each of the two distant parts of the territory, namely Ascension Island and Tristan da Cunha.

The role of the Governor is to act as the de facto head of state, and they are usually responsible for appointing the head of government, and senior political positions in the territory.
The Governor is also responsible for liaising with the UK Government and carrying out any ceremonial duties. A Commissioner has the same powers as a Governor but also acts as the head of government.

Local Government

All the overseas territories have their own system of government, and localised laws. The structure of the government appears to be closely correlated to the size and political development of the territory.

Legal System

Each overseas territory has its own legal system independent of the United Kingdom. The legal system is generally based on English common law, with some distinctions for local circumstances. Each territory has its own attorney general and the court system. For the smaller territories, the UK may appoint a UK-based lawyer or judge to work on legal cases. This is particularly important for cases involving serious crimes and where it is impossible to find a jury who will not know the defendant in a small population island.

The Pitcairn sexual assault trial of 2004 is an example of how the UK may choose to provide the legal framework for particular cases where the territory cannot do so alone.

Joint Ministerial Council

A joint ministerial council of UK ministers and the leaders of the Overseas Territories has been held annually since 2012 to provide representation between UK Government departments and Overseas Territory Governments.


 

Relations with the United Kingdom

Historically the Secretary of State for the Colonies and the Colonial Office were responsible for overseeing all British Colonies, but today the Foreign and Commonwealth Office (FCO) has the responsibility of looking after the interests of all overseas territories except the Sovereign Base Areas of Akrotiri and Dhekelia, which comes under the jurisdiction of the Ministry of Defence. Within the FCO, the general responsibility for the territories is handled by the Overseas Territories Directorate.

In 2012, the FCO published The Overseas Territories: security, success and sustainability which set out Britain’s policy for the Overseas Territories, covering six main areas:

  • Defence, security and safety of the territories and their people
  • Successful and resilient economies
  • Cherishing the environment
  • Making government work better
  • Vibrant and flourishing communities
  • Productive links with the wider world

Britain and the overseas territories do not have diplomatic representations, although the governments of the overseas territories with indigenous populations all retain a representative office in London. The United Kingdom Overseas Territories Association (UKOTA) also represents the interests of the territories in London. The governments in both London and territories occasionally meet to mitigate or resolve disagreements over the process of governance in the territories and levels of autonomy.

Britain provides financial assistance to the overseas territories via the Department for International Development. Currently[when?] only Montserrat and Saint Helena receive budgetary aid (i.e. financial contribution to recurrent funding). Several specialist funds are made available by the UK, including:

The Good Government Fund which provides assistance on government administration;
The Economic Diversification Programme Budget which aims to diversify and enhance the economic bases of the territories.
The territories have no official representation in the UK Parliament, but have informal representation through the All-Party Parliamentary Group, and can petition the UK Government through the Directgov e-Petitions website. Only Gibraltar has representation in the European Parliament and it shares its Member with the region of South West England.

Some parties, have endorsed calls for direct representation of overseas territories in the UK Parliament.

Foreign Affairs

Foreign affairs of the overseas territories are handled by the FCO in London. Some territories maintain diplomatic officers in nearby countries for trade and immigration purposes. Several of the territories in the Americas maintain membership within the Organisation of the Eastern Caribbean States, the Caribbean Community, the Caribbean Development Bank, Caribbean Disaster Emergency Management Agency, and the Association of Caribbean States. The territories are members of the Commonwealth of Nations through the United Kingdom. The inhabited territories compete in their own right at the Commonwealth Games, and three of the territories (Bermuda, the Cayman Islands and the British Virgin Islands) sent teams to the 2008 Summer Olympics.

Gibraltar is the only overseas territory that is part of the European Union (EU), although it is not part of the European Customs Union, the European Tax Policy, the European Statistics Zone or the Common Agriculture Policy.
Gibraltar is not a member of the European Union in its own right. The Sovereign Base Areas in Cyprus are not part of the European Union, but they are the only British overseas territory to use the euro as official currency. None of the other Overseas Territories are members of the EU, the main body of EU law does not apply and, although certain slices of EU law are applied to those territories as part of the EU’s Association of Overseas Countries and Territories (OCT Association), they are not commonly enforceable in local courts. The OCT Association also provides overseas territories with structural funding for regeneration projects.

Since the return of full British citizenship to most ‘belongers’ of overseas territories (mainly since the British Overseas Territories Act 2002), the citizens of those territories hold concurrent European Union citizenship, giving them rights of free movement across all EU member states.

Five nations dispute the UK’s sovereignty in the following overseas territories:

  • British Antarctic Territory – Territory overlaps Antarctic claims made by Chile and Argentina
  • British Indian Ocean Territory – claimed by Mauritius and Seychelles
  • Falkland Islands – claimed by Argentina
  • Gibraltar – claimed by Spain
  • South Georgia and the South Sandwich Islands – claimed by Argentina

Citizenship

None of the overseas territories has its own nationality status, and most residents hold two forms of British nationality: British Overseas Territories citizenship (BOTC) and British citizenship. Only the latter grants the right of abode in a specific country or territory, namely, the United Kingdom proper which includes its three Crown Dependencies.
Individual overseas territories have legislative independence over immigration, and consequently, BOTC status does not automatically grant the right of abode in any of the territories, as it depends on the territory’s immigration laws. A territory may issue belonger status to allow a person to reside in the territory that they have close links with. The governors of the territories may also allow naturalization of non-BOTCs as BOTCs.

Thousands of Gibraltarians dress in their national colours of red and white during the 2013 Gibraltar National Day celebrations. Gibraltarians were the only group of overseas territories residents who could apply for full British citizenship without restrictions before 2002.
From 1949 to 1983, the nationality status of Citizenship of UK and Colonies (CUKC) was shared by residents of the UK proper and residents of overseas territories, although most residents of overseas territories lost their automatic right to live in the UK after the ratification of Commonwealth Immigrants Act 1968 that year unless they were born in the UK proper or had a parent or a grandparent born in the UK.
In 1983, CUKC status of residents of overseas territories without the right of abode in the UK was replaced by British Dependent Territories citizenship (BDTC) in the newly-minted British Nationality Act 1981, a status that does not come with it the right of abode in the UK or any overseas territory. For these residents, registration as full British citizens then required physical residence in the UK proper. There were only two exceptions: Falkland Islanders, who were automatically granted British citizenship and was treated as a part of the UK proper through the enactment of British Nationality (Falkland Islands) Act 1983 due to the Falklands War with Argentina, and Gibraltarians who were given the special entitlement to be registered as British citizens upon request without further conditions because of its individual membership in the European Economic Area and the European Community.

5 years after the handover of Hong Kong to China in 1997, the British government amended the 1981 Act to give British citizenship without restrictions to all BDTCs (the status was also renamed BOTC at the same time) except for those solely connected with Akrotiri and Dhekelia (whose residents already held Cypriot citizenship). This restored the right of abode in the UK to residents of overseas territories after a 34-year hiatus from 1968 to 2002.

Military

Defence of the Overseas Territories is the responsibility of the UK. Many of the overseas territories are used as military bases by the UK and its allies.

Ascension Island (part of Saint Helena, Ascension and Tristan da Cunha) – the Base known as RAF Ascension Island is used by both the Royal Air Force and the United States Air Force.
Bermuda – became the primary Royal Navy base in North America, following US independence. The Naval establishment included an admiralty, a dockyard, and a naval squadron. A considerable military garrison was built up to protect it, and Bermuda, which the British Government came to see as a base, rather than as a colony, was known as Fortress Bermuda, and the Gibraltar of the West (Bermudians, like Gibraltarians, also dub their territory “The Rock”).
Canada and the USA also established bases in Bermuda during the Second World War, which were maintained through the Cold War. Four air bases were located in Bermuda during the Second World War (operated by the Royal Air Force, Royal Navy, US Navy, and US Army/Army, Air Force). Since 1995, the military force in Bermuda has been reduced to the local territorial battalion, the Royal Bermuda Regiment.
British Indian Ocean Territory – the island of Diego Garcia is home to a large naval base and airbase leased to the United States by the United Kingdom until 2036 (unless renewed). There are British forces in small numbers in the BIOT for administrative and immigration purposes.
Falkland Islands – the British Forces Falkland Islands includes commitments from the British Army, Royal Air Force and Royal Navy, along with the Falkland Islands Defence Force.
Gibraltar – British Forces Gibraltar includes a Royal Navy dockyard (also used by NATO), RAF Gibraltar – used by the RAF and NATO and a local garrison – the Royal Gibraltar Regiment.
The Sovereign Base Areas of Akrotiri and Dhekelia in Cyprus – maintained as strategic British military bases in the eastern Mediterranean Sea.
Montserrat – the Royal Montserrat Defence Force, historically connected with the Irish Guards, is a body of twenty volunteers, whose duties are primarily ceremonial.


 

Languages

Most of the languages other than English spoken in the territories contain a large degree of English, either as a root language or in codeswitching, e.g. Llanito.
They include:

  • Llanito or Yanito and Spanish (Gibraltar)
  • Cayman Creole (Cayman Islands)
  • Turks-Caicos Creole (Turks and Caicos Islands)
  • Pitkern (Pitcairn Islands)
  • Greek and Turkish (Akrotiri and Dhekelia)

Forms of English:

  • Bermudian English (Bermuda)
  • Falkland Islands English

 

Currencies

The many British overseas territories use a varied assortment of currencies, including the euro, pound, US dollar, NZ dollar, or their own currencies, which may be pegged to one of these.


 

Symbols & Insignia

Each overseas territory has been granted its own flag and coat of arms by the British monarch. Traditionally, the flags follow the Blue Ensign design, with the Union Flag in the canton, and the territory’s coat of arms in the fly. Exceptions to this are Bermuda which uses a Red Ensign; British Antarctic Territory which uses a White Ensign; British Indian Ocean Territory which uses a Blue Ensign with wavy lines to symbolise the sea; and Gibraltar which uses a banner of its coat of arms (the flag of the city of Gibraltar).

Akrotiri and Dhekelia and Saint Helena, Ascension and Tristan da Cunha are the only British overseas territories without their own flag. The Union Flag is used in these territories.


 

Sports

Bermuda, the British Virgin Islands and the Cayman Islands are the only British Overseas Territories with recognised National Olympic Committees (NOCs); the British Olympic Association is recognised as the appropriate NOC for athletes from the other territories, and thus athletes who hold a British passport are eligible to represent Great Britain at the Olympic Games.

Shara Proctor from Anguilla, Delano Williams from the Turks and Caicos Islands, Jenaya Wade-Fray from Bermuda and Georgina Cassar from Gibraltar strived to represent Team GB at the London 2012 Olympics. Proctor, Wade-Fray and Cassar qualified for Team GB, with Williams missing the cut, however wishing to represent the UK in 2016.

The Gibraltar national football team was accepted into UEFA in 2013 in time for the 2016 European Championships. It has been accepted by FIFA and went into the 2018 FIFA World Cup qualifying, where they achieved 0 points.


 

Biodiversity

The British Overseas Territories have more biodiversity than the entire UK mainland. There are at least 180 endemic plant species in the overseas territories as opposed to only 12 on the UK mainland. Responsibility for protection of biodiversity and meeting obligations under international environmental conventions is shared between the UK Government and the local governments of the territories.

Two areas, Henderson Island in the Pitcairn Islands, as well as the Gough and Inaccessible Islands of Tristan Da Cunha, are listed as UNESCO World Heritage Sites, and two other territories, the Turks and Caicos Islands, and Saint Helena are on the United Kingdom’s tentative list for future UNESCO World Heritage Sites. Gibraltar’s Gorham’s Cave Complex is also found on the UK’s tentative UNESCO World Heritage Site list.

The three regions of biodiversity hotspots situated in the British Overseas Territories are the Caribbean Islands, the Mediterranean Basin and the Oceania ecozone in the Pacific.

The UK created the largest continuous marine protected areas in the world, the Chagos Marine Protected Area, and announced in 2015 funding to establish a new, larger, reserve around the Pitcairn Islands.

In January 2016, the UK government announced the intention to create a marine protected area around Ascension Island. The protected area would be 234,291 square kilometres, half of which would be closed to fishing.

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