WHAT DO THE PARTY MANIFESTOS MEAN FOR THE BRITISH OVERSEAS TERRITORIES?

By Sarah Cooper-Lesadd, sarah.cooper-lesadd@fotbot.org

Although the British Overseas Territories do not have a vote in the upcoming General Election, the British political parties have addressed the Overseas Territories to different extents in their manifestos.

Unless otherwise stated, we presume that the absence of policy areas means a continuation of the status quo.

The Labour Party’s manifesto underlines the importance of internationalism, placing this at the core of their movement, emphasising sovereignty and the need to tackle tax avoidance. The manifesto states “We have a duty to stand up for the security and sovereignty of our overseas territories, including the Falklands, and for the rights of our citizens and dual nationals abroad”.

Previously, Jeremy Corbyn proposed a Northern Ireland style power sharing deal for the Falkland Islands. Although not explicitly stated in their manifesto, there is a possibility that the Labour Party could propose a sovereignty referendum for the Falkland Islands.

The Labour Party have also committed to returning full sovereignty to the Chagos Islands which incorporates Diego Garcia, a militarised atoll just south of the equator in the central Indian Ocean. Earlier this year, the UN general assembly voted by a majority of 116 to six countries in an advisory decision, ordering the UK to return the Chagos Islands to Mauritius. Labour have indicated that they would abide by this advisory decision and thereby return the British Indian Ocean Territory to Mauritius.

While Labour have committed to securing a new Brexit deal, they are committed to ensuring that there is no change in the status or sovereignty of Gibraltar. However, this commitment has been taken with the consideration that Gibraltar will need to stay central in any negotiating position if the UK leaves the European Union.

Finally on tax avoidance, the Labour administration proposes to launch “the biggest ever crackdown on tax avoidance and evasion”. They previously published a comprehensive tax transparency and avoidance programme, which involves extending the register of beneficial ownership, a specialised Tax Enforcement Unit in HM Revenue & Customs (HMRC), minimum standards for Crown Dependencies and Overseas Territories and a withholding tax for ‘abusive’ tax havens.

Under the current government, Britain’s Overseas Territories will not be forced to establish public registries of company beneficial ownership until 2023 at the earliest, rather than the 2020 deadline demanded by MPs.

Although, there is still the possibility that a new administration could seek to escalate this process, opening the UK to further legal challenges as two Overseas Territories have previously launched legal challenges. The British Virgin Islands and the Cayman Islands both have substantial financial sectors and any premature move to enforce public register of beneficial owners of companies could involve lengthy legal challenges.

The Conservative Party have committed to putting national security first, saying that:

“The security of our nation comes first. We will protect the British people at home and abroad, and also ensure that the democratic rights of people in Gibraltar, the Falklands and all our overseas territories are protected”.

The manifesto includes strong commitments to defend the security and economic prosperity of the UK and its Overseas Territories, showing that the Conservatives will continue to support self-determination, especially in the face of adversarial actions by other countries like Spain and Argentina.

The manifesto has committed to protecting the environment, emphasising that “Conservation is, and always has been, at the heart of Conservatism”. The Conservatives will carry out that commitment by forging new international partnerships to tackle deforestation and establishing a new £500m Blue planet Fund to help protect oceans from plastic pollution, warming sea temperatures and overfishing.

This means that a Conservative Government would continue and enhance its work to protect and develop the biodiversity of the British Overseas Territories.

The Liberal Democrat manifesto is committed to globalism, stating that “as the world changes, the European Union needs to lead. The Liberal Democrats want Europe to be strong, willing to act, and at the forefront of world progress”. The Liberal Democrats are committed to reversing the results of the referendum however as they are likely to be only in government in a coalition, it would make sense to consider this point in the context of a Labour-led Government.

The manifesto underlines the importance of the European Elections in driving forward change, including a commitment to Gibraltar, pledging to support their rights in Europe and their right to self determination. The manifesto makes the point that European Elections are the only elections where Liberal Democrat representatives can be elected for Gibraltar. It recalls that 67% voted Liberal Democrat in 2014.

The Greens have committed:

“To making at least 30% of UK domestic waters into fully protected marine protected areas by 2030. We will also work with British Overseas Territories (BOTs) to increase the ‘blue belt’ protecting BOTs’ waters from commercial extraction, from the current 32% of coverage to 50”.

This is similar to the ‘Blue Belt’ of the Conservative Party and will continue to build on the work of the current government.

The Greens have also stated that they intend to clamp down on “tax haven internationally and, domestically, requiring offshore companies to reveal their beneficial ownership before being accepted as competitors for publicly funded contracts.

The Green Party will campaign for the EU to clamp down on member state tax havens, including Ireland, the Netherlands and Luxembourg. While the current government have already committed to introducing registers of beneficial ownership, what this would mean in policy terms is unclear, but it may be adverse to both the Cayman Islands and the British Virgin Islands substantial financial and services sector.

DUP

The DUP have committed to maintaining a diplomatic presence abroad through the commonwealth and defending British sovereignty through our Overseas Territories.

The DUP supports the people of the Falklands and Gibraltar stating that “their expressed desire to remain linked to the United Kingdom is admirable and must be respected and if necessary defended”.

SNP

The SNP have not mentioned the Overseas Territories in their manifestos. However, they have said they will ‘clamp down on tax avoidance’ (which may or may not affect the Overseas Territories).

The SNP want the Trident nuclear deterrent to be scrapped by the UK. It has been suggested that Trident could be moved from Faslane (Scotland) to another base, perhaps Gibraltar.

Brexit Party

While the Brexit Party have not published an official manifesto, they have produced a contract which is available on their website. Although, their contract does not explicitly reference the overseas territories, it mentions that they will invest £2.5bn in our fishing and coastal communities and through a clean break Brexit, recovering control of a 200 mile exclusive economic zone which would include the overseas territories.