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Burt critical of UK report on voting rights

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Standing on principle: David Burt, the Premier, is flanked by government MPs outside the House of Assembly as he responds to a House of Commons committee report that calls for British citizens resident in Bermuda to be given a vote (Photograph by Blaire Simmons)

David Burt rejected talk of independence yesterday as he asked the British Government to dismiss a report that recommended that British citizens resident in Bermuda should have voting rights.

However, the Premier warned the stance on independence could change.

Mr Burt said that Bermuda had a constitutional relationship with the UK.

He added: “There are certain persons inside the House of Commons that believe that we should have a different relationship and we should serve as a province of the United Kingdom.

“If the 50-year settlement between our constitutional affairs will change, then I think the people of Bermuda will have a different discussion.”

Mr Burt said that Bermuda was in “new and dangerous territory”.

He added: “From the perspective of the Government, we are going to stand by our principles. We are going to stand by the Constitution which we currently have, our constitution settlement, which says that the UK cannot legislate for our own affairs.

“And if the United Kingdom changes that position, then we’ll have decisions to make here.”

Mr Burt was speaking as he called on the UK Government to reject the Global Britain and the British Overseas Territories: Resetting the Relationship report.

The report, created by the House of Commons’ Foreign Affairs Committee, made 14 recommendations.

These included the mandatory publication of a beneficial ownership of companies register, the right to vote for UK citizens resident in Bermuda, and legalisation of same-sex marriage.

Mr Burt gave notice of a motion against the report in the House of Assembly.

He said that members of the committee responsible for the report were not uninformed about the island. Mr Burt added: “They have been to Bermuda, they are persons that have interacted with our government on many different occasions.”

He said he believed the committee members had a different perspective of the island.

Mr Burt explained: “They view Bermuda as a province of the United Kingdom that they can govern and legislate for from Westminister.

“We do not agree with that perspective, and we are going to make it very clear in this House, and I expect to receive unanimous support on this particular motion, that it is for us to make our own laws.

“And if they want to be colonial, then they need to go back to a different era. It is not for today.”

Mr Burt said Bermuda’s position on beneficial ownership was “a bipartisan one, endorsed by successive governments”.

He added: “We will adopt the global standard for a public register of beneficial ownership once one is implemented.”

Mr Burt said the motion would “signal the political unanimity” in Bermuda.

He added: “This united front will convey to the UK Government that on these issues, Bermuda is of one accord.”

Mr Burt said that Bermuda’s designation as an Overseas Territory was “a cute way of saying a colony”.

He added that the island had enjoyed a relationship where Britain “respected our ability, and our constitution, insofar as we have the ability to make our own laws” for 50 years. But the Premier said: “It seems as though that view in the United Kingdom is changing.

“So what we want to do is make it as clear as possible, so that they understand the view of Bermuda and then the ball is in their court.”

Mr Burt added: “I look forward to leading the debate on this motion and tracing for the people of Bermuda, and reminding some, and perhaps informing others, of the history of voting rights in this country, and setting out in the clearest possible terms possible that Bermuda, in this 21st century, will not be turned back to the worst excesses of what we thought was a bygone colonial era.”

The news came as leaders of the Isle of Man, Jersey and Guernsey were in London as a cross-party amendment came before the Houses of Parliament to force the Crown Dependencies to start a public register of beneficial ownership.

The dependencies complained the amendment was unconstitutional and the British Government delayed the vote.

David Burt, the Premier