Friday, 6th July 2012
The White wash?
Under its glossy presentation the British Government’s White Paper on the Overseas Territories is a masterpiece of understatement, securing of positions and, very clearly on this occasion, largely a very elegant rebuttal to the Argentinian PR Falklands claim offensive.
Perhaps the most significant addition from 1999’s paper is the section on the UN Committee of 24 which sets out UK’s belief that the C24 “no longer has a relevant role to play” and that all the territories should have been delisted a long time ago. Its supports, however, territories having their democratically elected representatives put their views across given that “some Members” seek to keep the C24 operative on decolonisation as well as the Fourth Committee. It reiterates, importantly, the continued support for the UK territories “to determine their own future”.
The paper is largely concerned with good government and financial accountability although, in his introduction, Prime Minister Cameron stretches history a little in using the word “inherited” in relation to the UK and the territories. There is an historic responsibility to the people and the land was invariably taken from someone.
There must be some message to Spain in the huge emphasis given to protection of the environment. It is in the context of these papers and British policy that our maritime protection laws have evolved.
No one would imagine, reading the UK’s promise of commitment to support and financial integrity and viability, that Britain is engaged on a full scale assault on gaming and other taxation to the detriment of any territory.
An interesting, reassuring, line too in the paper is that under the heading ‘Defence, Security and Safety’ they set out the defence from external threats for “ensuring [territories’] right to self-determination” – a clear message to Argentina, but welcomed in Gibraltar too. There is also the commitment to provide UK and allies with military use of the territories.
What is stated clearly, and no doubt remains a comfort upon which Spain can anchor, is the full commitment to the Treaty of Utrecht of 1713 recorded as the point when sovereignty of Gibraltar was ceded to UK. This point comes to the fore now because there is clear sensitivity in both UK and Spain as to what significance will be attached to next year’s tercentenary of the treaty.
The greatest silence thunders out in that context. Whilst there is anecdotal reference to Bermuda becoming British when settled by shipwreck survivors in 1609, there is again no reference at all to 1704. So how long have we been British? Discuss…
The full report can be seen at http://www.fco.gov.uk/en/about-us/what-we-do/overseas-territories/overseas-territories-white-paper/