Burt: our next chapter is independence
David Burt made a case for Bermudian independence yesterday because he said it was unfair that Britain still exercised power over the island's affairs.
The Premier told the House of Assembly it was “unacceptable in a modern democracy” to have “decisions made thousands of miles away that impact our customs, our institutions and our livelihoods”.
Mr Burt was speaking at a celebration to mark the 50th anniversary of universal adult suffrage in the House of Assembly.
He said it was up to Bermuda to pursue self-determination.
But he told The Royal Gazette that a bid for independence was not on the Progressive Labour Party's agenda.
Mr Burt said: “As we look back on 50 years, we should look to the next 50 and start laying the groundwork in constitutional reform necessary for what will one day be an independent Bermuda.”
He added: “Independence is not part of our current mandate. We are focused on delivering on the items in our election platform, of which independence is not one.”
Mr Burt quoted Dame Jennifer Smith, a former premier, who said independence required a solid foundation of constitutional and electoral reform.
He added that “our charge after this ceremony is to collectively build that foundation”.
Mr Burt said 1968 was one of the most tumultuous years in world history and that the Bermuda Constitution Order of 1968 had attempted to “codify the very ideals that were stimulating protests around the world — the fundamental rights and freedom of the individual, beginning the story that 50 years later is still unfinished”.
Mr Burt added it was “a story that was meant to be co-authored”.
He said: “The Bermuda Constitution Order was largely a British contribution to this narrative, and its intent was that we, the people of Bermuda, would finish the story by writing our own chapter, called independence.”
Mr Burt added that the Progressive Labour Party's constitution committed the party to “serve as a vehicle in moving Bermuda to independence”.
He said: “It can and should be no surprise that as its leader and premier, I have no fears about repeating that ultimate aim.”
Mr Burt added: “The fits and starts and passing flirtations with independence have never taken hold in the hearts and minds of the people.
“This is perhaps because we as politicians have been consumed with managing Bermuda and all of its disparate interests and have never turned our collective energies towards establishing the vision required to lead Bermuda into the next chapter of her constitutional development.”
Mr Burt said that it was “not acceptable that decisions made closer to home reflect London's desires but bear no resemblance to our own desires as expressed at the ballot box”.
He added that the events of 1968 began “a slow move towards electoral justice and parliamentary dignity for Bermuda”, but were “just a beginning”.
Mr Burt said: “Though we may now be referred to as Overseas Territories, it is just the politically correct way to say that we are a colonial possession of the United Kingdom — a country with a Parliament that still thinks it is right to legislate for its colonies from Westminster, a place where we have no voice, a place where we have no vote, and a place where our futures are treated as a convenient political punching bag.”
He added: “Fifty years on, the story awaits an ending chapter. The question is, will today's teenagers have to wait until they collect their pension cheques to read that chapter?”
Mr Burt said: “This constitution has been tested from within our island and without. Every meaningful test of the 1968 document teaches us that it is imperfect, that it is unfinished, and stands ready to be better cast in the image of Bermuda today.”
He called on legislators and voters to set aside political differences.
He told Parliament: “It is my hope that while Bermuda is challenged by the neocolonialism from Westminster, that all Bermudians, white and black, PLP and OBA, can relax our political tribalism long enough to realise that if we do not meet the threat posed by the UK Parliament's latest actions, that we in Bermuda may not have the means by which to write that final chapter.”
Mr Burt said: “The class of 1968 taught us to be bold, and their example should be an inspiration to all of us to finish the work that was started — so that democracy in these isles can be hailed with a song that does not end with the word ‘king' or ‘queen', but pays tribute to our island home, that gives us the present and departed kings and queens of the class of 1968 — that honours Bermuda's imperfect but yet-unfinished democracy.”