UK report calls for the expat vote

  • David Burt, the Premier (File photograph by Akil Simmons)

    David Burt, the Premier (File photograph by Akil Simmons)

Bermuda will fight a recommendation to the House of Commons that British residents on the island should get to vote, the Premier vowed yesterday.

David Burt said the proposal was a “tone-deaf” idea that ignored the history of voting rights in Bermuda.

He was speaking after the British Parliament’s Foreign Affairs Committee published its report, Global Britain and the British Overseas Territories: Resetting the Relationship .

An inquiry was launched by the group last July and it made a total of 14 recommendations that also covered public beneficial ownership registers, same-sex marriage laws and access to treatment by the British National Health Service.

The committee report said: “While we recognise that the OTs are small communities with unique cultural identities, we do not accept that there is any justification to deny legally resident British Overseas Territory and UK citizens the right to vote and to hold elected office.

“This elevates one group of British people over another and risks undermining the ties that bind the UK and the OTs together in one global British family.”

The committee added the British government should start a consultation with territories “to agree a plan to ensure that there is a pathway for all resident UK and British Overseas Territory citizens to be able to vote and hold elected office in territory”.

Mr Burt said: “The right to vote is perhaps the most highly valued right in a democracy. To suggest that non-Bermudians should have the right to determine the direction of our country via the ballot box ignores the history of voting rights in Bermuda and is a tone-deaf recommendation which we will strenuously resist.”

The document was submitted to the House of Commons and the British Government has eight weeks to respond.

Mr Burt said: “The Government of Bermuda is reviewing the report and will be ready to address any issues that may arise.”

He added: “Separately, we are focused on preparing Bermuda for what may emerge as a result of Brexit, a situation which can best be described as evolving daily.”

The report said that relationships between the UK and territories became strained last May when the Sanctions and Anti-Money Laundering Act was passed, which set out a deadline to produce a companies’ beneficial ownership register available to the public by the end of next year.

The committee added: “Some OTs say that this will impact their financial services sectors and make them less competitive.

“We believe it is a matter of national security, because there is evidence to suggest that money tied to autocratic regimes has been connected to OT-registered companies and that considerations of competitiveness cannot prevent action.”

The report said: “We cannot wait until public registers are a global norm and we cannot let considerations of competitiveness prevent us from taking action now.”

It added the committee regretted “public registers may not be published before 2023”.

The report said: “The Foreign Secretary, in co-operation with the elected governments of the OTs, should lay out before the summer recess a clear and detailed timetable for the publication of registers of beneficial ownership in each OT.”

Mr Burt, who wrote a letter included in written evidence to the inquiry, said yesterday: “Bermuda is committed to meeting any properly adopted, global standard for such matters and will work with the UK Government as necessary once such a global standard is agreed.”

Nicola Barker, a British expert on human rights and constitutional law, admitted the suggestion of a “pathway” for British people to vote was likely to stir up strong emotions.

She highlighted the opposition to the Pathways to Status legislation that the former One Bermuda Alliance administration attempted to table in 2016.

That was designed to make it easier for long-term residents to gain permanent residency and status, but the Bill was withdrawn after days of demonstrations shut down Parliament.

Dr Barker said yesterday that from what she had seen of “the controversy from the last time around, it doesn’t seem particularly sensible to me, or the right thing for the UK to do” to impose such a rule, “if it came to that”.

She added: “The thing that struck me in reading the report is really how little representation there was from Bermuda, and I think that’s really unfortunate because there are a couple of things in the report that don’t necessarily ring quite accurately in relation to Bermuda.”

Dr Barker said: “The report recognises that the UK government should allow residents of Overseas Territories to access treatment on the NHS if they can’t get treatment in their home country.”

Most Overseas Territories’ citizens are given free medical treatment in the UK under a quota system. Dr Barker said: “It’s not mentioned in the report what Bermuda’s quota is.”

The report said the British Government should consider options for the removal of quotas on the number of people from the Territories that can use NHS services.

The committee also found that the British Government should examine how the Foreign Office managed its responsibilities for the Territories.

The report added: “The OTs’ needs extend far beyond the FCO and their voices must be heard elsewhere in Whitehall.”

The committee suggested consideration of a secondment programme between British and territories’ government departments.

Same-sex marriages were highlighted as “points of friction”.

The report said: “It is time for all OTs to legalise same-sex marriage and for the UK Government to do more than simply support it in principle. It must be prepared to step in.”

Mr Burt declined to comment on same-sex marriage yesterday as a case is still to be heard by the Privy Council in London.

A Foreign Office spokeswoman said: “We will carefully consider the report from the Foreign Affairs Committee and respond fully in due course.

“We take our responsibilities to the Overseas Territories extremely seriously and are committed to assisting them in a range of areas, from building strong economies, to improving standards of governance and protecting vulnerable groups, to providing support to help protect the environment.”

The right to vote in Bermuda

Adult Bermudians are qualified to be added to the parliamentary register of voters — but the entitlement is not extended to all other island residents.

The Parliamentary Registry website said: “Persons can register to vote if they are Bermudian and 18 years of age or older, or non-Bermudian Commonwealth citizens who were registered to vote on May 1, 1976.”

People cannot vote if they cease to be Bermuda residents by polling day under the Parliamentary Election Act 1978.

A Permanent Resident’s Certificate does not in itself confer the entitlement to vote. But the Electoral Commission, an independent body that oversees elections in the UK, said on its Your Vote Matters website that a “qualifying Commonwealth citizen resident in the UK” can register to vote there.

Bermudians and other Overseas Territories citizens fall into that category.

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Published Feb 22, 2019 at 8:00 am (Updated Feb 22, 2019 at 11:40 am)

UK report calls for the expat vote

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