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Parliament united over passport issue

The Progressive Labour Party has expressed its support for efforts to halt or delay the removal of on-island passport printing, saying the move has significant implications.

Shadow Home Affairs Minister Walter Roban said in a statement yesterday that the issue was a long-standing concern and the previous administration had been exploring alternative options with the UK Government.

“We made the case then that this move was unnecessary and represents a diminishment of Bermudian autonomy,” he said. “Furthermore, it will create challenges for Bermudians travelling for medical emergencies or other unplanned occurrences. This does not benefit Bermudians.

“The PLP will assist our government in any way we can to ensure that Bermudians are neither hindered or inconvenienced by this move and that Bermudian autonomy is not diminished further.”

Home Affairs Minister Michael Fahy told the Senate last week that Bermudian passports would be printed in the UK as soon next December as the British Government implements a new passport design with additional security features.

Senator Fahy said the move could have serious consequences in relation to emergency medical travel and that Government was working on resolving the issue, ideally so that Bermuda could retain its ability to print passports on-Island.

In the House of Assembly on Friday, Shadow Education Minister Walton Brown said the matter might seem minor, but its constitutional implications could be significant.

“I would encourage the Government to look at it in its full context,” he said. “It is not a minute issue. This is a part of an overall strategy that the UK has been playing out since 1989.

“When our honourable Premier goes to the UK in December for the joint ministerial conference, you will have the UK bringing forward issues that have nothing to do with their constitutional powers and I would encourage the Premier to push back, because you either have a constitution that you respect or you don't have a valid constitution.”

Mr Brown told the House that during a 2009 meeting with the Foreign Commonwealth Office he was told that the British Overseas passport would be eliminated altogether and that a date of 2020 had been mentioned.

“I know that the responsible minister is going to engage in dialogue with the UK to see if something can be done to alleviate some of the hardship that will be imposed on Bermudians when this new policy comes into place, but we need to look at the much larger picture,” he said.

“The larger picture has to do with a British Government position that none of the overseas territories seek to alter their current constitutional stasis. Our honourable Premier has just come back from Gibraltar where there was some allusion to this fact that things were more or less okay the way they are constitutionally, although there may be a need or desire for some tweaking of this relationship.

“The deeper concern is [that] as we move forward and the British Government decides that there are no longer going to be Overseas Territories passports issued, [there] will be a fundamental challenge for Bermuda passport holders, because the visa free access that we currently have to the US will be seriously jeopardised.”

He described the matter as an issue of national importance, calling for serious bipartisan discussion on the topic for the sake of the Island's future.

“We are in a situation where the world is changing rapidly. We need to have more and not less authority to make decisions that benefit our interests,” he said.

“When the UK starts talking about contingent liability, as they have applied to Cayman and other territories, we need to be concerned about that and we cannot have our economic interests hamstrung.”

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Published September 23, 2013 at 9:00 am (Updated September 23, 2013 at 1:19 pm)

Parliament united over passport issue

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