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FAC: Bermuda invited to OTs hearing

A British parliamentary committee said yesterday it was regrettable that the Premier did not attend an inquiry that led to a report he claimed was a bid to “erode the constitutional rights of Bermudians”.

The House of Commons Foreign Affairs Committee said elected leaders and representatives of most other Overseas Territories spoke when it heard evidence about relationships with the Britain.

David Burt was listed among those due to appear at a session in December, when he and Walton Brown, the Cabinet Office minister, were in London, but he said later their presence was unnecessary.

In notice of a motion against the report this week, he asked the British Government to reject it. The FAC's proposals included voting rights for British citizens in Bermuda and legalisation of same-sex marriage.

A spokesman for the UK committee said: “While the Premier disagreed with some of the conclusions and recommendations in the committee's report, we are grateful to him for engaging with the issues raised.

He continued: “We were sorry that the Premier and the Bermudian representative in the UK were unable to speak to the committee before we published our report, as the elected leaders and representatives of most of the other Overseas Territories did.”

The Royal Gazette asked the committee if it expected its report to spark independence debates in the UK's Overseas Territories.

The spokesman said: “This is a matter for the people of the Overseas Territories.

“Nonetheless, while the Premier and Bermuda's representative in the UK did not contribute to our inquiry in person, we spoke to the elected leaders and representatives of numerous territories, who made clear that their attachment to the UK is deeply rooted and that there is more appetite to reform the UK's relationships with the Overseas Territories than there is to sever ties.”

Mr Burt claimed on Monday that committee members were not uninformed about the island.

He added: “They have been to Bermuda; they are persons that have interacted with our government on many different occasions.”

Mr Burt said then: “They view Bermuda as a province of the United Kingdom that they can govern and legislate for from Westminster.”

The FAC spokesman replied that some members may have visited in the past, but the committee was unable to travel to Bermuda during its inquiry.

He said they took as much evidence from as many Overseas Territory leaders and representatives as possible and they had made it clear that they were all proud of their autonomy.

The spokesman added: “The committee respects this and recognises that territories like Bermuda have centuries-old political institutions.

“However, if the bonds uniting the British family of nations and territories are to remain strong, we believe that we must all commit to shared values and strive for the highest standards on fundamental issues like human rights and equality.”

The committee said it expected the Foreign Office to “engage seriously” with the report — titled Global Britain and the British Overseas Territories: Resetting the Relationship — and respond within two months.

The committee's inquiry was launched last July and the group made a total of 14 recommendations.

The report said that relationships between the UK and its Overseas Territories became strained last May when the Sanctions and Anti-Money Laundering Act was passed, which had a deadline to produce a public beneficial ownership of companies register by the end of next year.

It concluded that a detailed timetable for the lists should be laid out by this summer.

A letter from Mr Burt included in written evidence to the inquiry said the Government's position on the issue was “well known”.

He wrote: “Bermuda is committed to meeting any properly adopted, global standard for such matters and will work with the UK Government as necessary once such a standard is promulgated.”

A Foreign Office spokeswoman said on Tuesday: “As set out clearly in the Act, we will prepare draft legislation by the end of 2020, with all Overseas Territories expected to have fully functioning public registers in place by the end of 2023.

“This is part of the Government's call for all countries to make public registers the global norm by 2023.

“Our approach both respects the will of Parliament and delivers this in a way that is fair and proportionate to all our OTs.”

Mr Brown said in December, while he and the Premier were in London, that a meeting in the city with the committee was not on the pair's agenda.

He explained: “We do not feel that we have to answer to the FCO, and so we did not appear before them.”

A committee member confirmed that there was “no compulsion” to attend.

Mr Burt said then: “Bermuda has regular, direct engagement with the UK's officials and ministers and, as such, Bermuda's position on a wide variety of issues is well known and familiar to actual key decision-makers in London.

“The London Office is staffed by an expert team who provide leadership and daily interaction at the highest levels of the UK Government.

“I informed the Governor before leaving Bermuda for London that I would not be appearing before the committee.”

His motion, which has still to be debated, asked MPs to reject “the unwarranted and unjustified attempt at intervention into Bermuda's domestic affairs” and called on the UK Government to reject “the report and its retrograde recommendations”.

Mr Burt said today: “Our position on the recommendations of the report is clear and on these issues Bermuda is of one accord.

“We will stand by our principles and our Constitution which states that only persons that possess Bermuda status can vote and hold elected office in Bermuda.”

Update•This story has been updated to include a comment from Mr Burt.

David Burt (Photograph by Akil Simmons)

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Published March 08, 2019 at 8:00 am (Updated March 08, 2019 at 5:21 pm)

FAC: Bermuda invited to OTs hearing

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