Disappointing and out of step with reality
My first reaction was to check the date of the press conference because it could easily have been 2003 or even 1993. Sir John Swan’s comments are completely unsupported by the facts. Having just returned from London and the annual meeting of the Joint Ministerial Council, the Minister of State, on behalf of the UK Government, fully endorsed the Government's proposal to move towards full membership and looks forward to receiving Bermuda’s request for an entrustment by which the UK Government will set out the parameters of the process. Those parameters will reflect Bermuda’s status as an Overseas Territory of the UK and will, by definition, be different to those full members who are sovereign states.
Sir John’s comments on US pre-clearance are plainly irresponsible. US pre-clearance predates even Sir John’s tenure as Minister of Home Affairs and has been of benefit to Bermudians and visitors for almost 50 years. The United States is a valued trading partner and excellent neighbour. The relationship that has been built over decades would never be put at risk by this government. The United States ensures economic relations with the Caribbean through its CBI [Caribbean Basin Initiative], launched in 1983, and maintains strong economic ties to Caricom.
There is simply no evidence that Bermuda achieving full membership would in any way harm our relationship with the United States. The irony of Sir John’s comments is that in 1983, the US Senate specifically amended its definition of beneficiary countries under this Caribbean Basin Initiative to include Bermuda. In fact, the US has been fine with us affiliating with the Caribbean for 40 years but, apparently, Sir John is not. And the US were just fine with it three years later, in 1986, when Sir John’s famous US-Bermuda Tax Treaty was signed.
For the benefit of the public, here are some facts:
• Caricom does not issue passports
• Freedom of movement does not automatically follow full membership
• Bermuda’s local immigration laws can continue to apply to any foreign national seeking to reside or work in Bermuda
• The majority of Caricom member states retain the Privy Council as their final court of appeal ... and so, therefore, would Bermuda
The Government promised a consultation process and as part of that process, Bermudians will be provided with all relevant information to inform the process that leads to full membership.
Perhaps what is most disappointing about Sir John’s comments are the echoes of a time when Bermudians were deliberately made to look down on their own ancestry in spite of our closeness to it. The United Bermuda Party deliberately waged a targeted campaign to malign all things Caribbean here at home while profiting from the region with business interests in the very islands they said we should ignore.
This is the same thinking that guided Bermuda’s tourism marketing away from using Black people or imagery to promote the island, and overtly discouraged any hint of growing African-American tourism. And where are we now compared to our Caribbean competitors? Still struggling to break through to pre-pandemic visitor numbers and unable to achieve the record visitor arrivals we see in those destinations to the south.
In spite of this deliberate attempt to poison the consultative process, my door is always open to Sir John, whom I respect as a predecessor in this office. But on this issue, he is plain wrong.
• David Burt is the Premier of Bermuda, Minister of Finance and MP for Pembroke West Central (Constituency 18)