Closer London ties would cause ‘unease’
Closer links between Bermuda and the British Parliament would “cause unease”, the former Governor of Bermuda said yesterday.
George Fergusson was asked by a UK parliamentary committee to consider the relationship between other countries and their former colonies and if these arrangements would be appropriate for Britain's relationships with its Overseas Territories.
Mr Fergusson, who was Governor of Bermuda from 2012 to 2016, told the Foreign Affairs Committee it was possible to “envisage a much more orderly, logical and accountable relationship” and highlighted France, the Netherlands and the United States as possible models.
He added: “Most of that would involve direct representation to the House of Commons and that has some benefits — it means that the territories could call to account the relevant secretaries of state and it addresses a bit of a democratic deficit.”
Mr Fergusson said the problem of representation without taxation could be resolved with an arrangement that meant Overseas Territories representatives in the British Parliament would have no right to vote on British financial affairs.
But he added: “I think the really big obstacle to the neat, logical structure is that it would bind territories in more closely to the United Kingdom probably more than they want, and the slightly messy arrangement we've got at the moment, certainly compared to the French, is messy, but it reflects the wishes of territories, who I think would have — you'd need to ask them direct — but I think they'd have a reluctance at being tied in to Parliament.
“Bermuda in particular, Bermudians think of themselves as Bermudians, and becoming more legislatively connected with Britain would cause unease.”
The committee asked why so many territories wanted to stay part of the “British family”.
Mr Fergusson agreed with reasons put forward by witness Susie Alegre, the director of the Islands Rights Initiative consultancy group, who said factors included size and a sense of self.
He added “security and sovereignty” to the list, but admitted that his only direct experience was in Bermuda and Pitcairn, where he was a non-resident Governor while High Commissioner to New Zealand and Samoa.
Mr Fergusson said: “There's an element of if it's not broken, why fix it or change it?”
Mr Fergusson told the committee: “Like everything else I think it varies across the different territories, some feel a greater organic attachment than others, for some I think it is a matter of convenience, not getting around to doing anything about it.”
He and Ms Alegre were asked how good the relationship between the UK government and its territories was.
Mr Fergusson said: “I think it's almost fated to be difficult.” He added: “I think there will always be a degree of confusion and pushing and pulling.”
Mr Fergusson said: “I'm now two years away from Bermuda. I don't think it is worse than usual, I don't think it's necessarily bad. I think that things like the sanctions and anti-money laundering Act obviously would represent a little bit of a spike in spikiness.
“There will always be something around but I don't think the relationship is too bad.”
The witnesses were also asked about how the UK Foreign and Commonwealth Office managed links between other government departments and Overseas Territories.
Mr Fergusson said: “The Foreign Office has not very much to do with the Government of Bermuda, especially on a day-to-day basis. The Governor is obviously the main channel for that.
“Probably the government department that spoke most often to counterparts in the Government of Bermuda would have been the Treasury, to the Ministry of Finance.
“There were connections between the Ministry of Defence and the (Royal) Bermuda Regiment and sometimes events made those contacts be more frequent.”
He added there was a “varied picture” across other territories because some had closer ties to the UK Department for International Development.