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MPs united in rejecting UK citizens vote

A British Parliament committee report that recommended British citizens should vote, gain citizenship and run for office in Bermuda has been rejected unanimously by MPs.

David Burt moved a motion in the House of Assembly to reject the report from the House of Commons, which he said was “the unwarranted and unjustified attempt at intervention into Bermuda's domestic affairs”.

The Premier said the report was “a test of our resolve, a test of our democracy and a test of our constitution”.

He added: “There is no doubt that this report's recommendations, if adopted, will err on the wrong side of a delicate balance that must be struck in modern Overseas Territories.

“To suggest that, beyond voting in Bermuda's election, people with an undefined, unregulated and tenuous connection to the community will have the ability to stand for elected office is among one of the most tone-deaf recommendations emanating from the United Kingdom House of Commons.”

The motion called on the UK Government “to reject the report and its retrograde recommendations with respect to Bermuda and the Overseas Territories”.

Mr Burt was speaking on Friday night and called for a clear message to be sent from Bermuda to the Foreign Affairs Committee, which drew up the report, that “this Honourable House is the place where decisions are made for the people of Bermuda”.

He said: “It is the people's representatives who will decide our laws and our standards following free and fair elections by and for persons with Bermudian status.”

He said the motion was needed to signal the political unity of Bermuda on the issue.

But Scott Simons, among other Progressive Labour Party MPs, including the Premier, highlighted that only the Opposition leader, Craig Cannonier, spoke on the motion.

Mr Cannonier questioned if it was the right time to discuss the report and that the European Union decision to blacklist Bermuda over its tax regime should be dealt with first.

He added: “The report is just paper. It means nothing to us.”

“We have our constitution. We govern ourselves. We have gone so far as to even pay for our governor that is here.”

Mr Cannonier pointed out that the UK did not use its veto to prevent Bermuda from being blacklisted.

He added: “We need to address those concerns because they contribute to our GDP more than anything else.”

Mr Burt said the debate on the report was not linked to the European Union's decision to blacklist the island.

Rolfe Commissiong, a PLP backbencher, highlighted research in the book Bermuda and the Struggle for Reform: Race, Politics and Ideology, published in 2011 by Walton Brown, now the Cabinet Office minister.

Mr Commissiong said Bermuda experienced a 66 per cent increase in immigration between 1960 to 1970. Of the 14,496 people who came to the island in the decade, 15 per cent were black and 83 per cent white.

He added: “Since half of these new residents were from the British Commonwealth, they were all entitled to vote after living on the island for a period of three years.”

Mr Commissiong said: “Henry Tucker's United Bermuda Party government were indulging in some of the worst forms of racialised social engineering to foster white migration in the country ... at the expense of black Bermudians.”

Christopher Famous, also a PLP backbencher, said his mother and others of her generation had to wait until they were 30 or 40 before they got to vote.

He added that the 11 MPs on Westminster's Foreign Affairs Committee were dictating to the 250,000 in “the colonies”.

Mr Famous said: “That's how dictatorships operate.”

He predicted that if Bermuda extended the vote to the British, they would form their own political party and dismantle immigration control.

Jamahl Simmons, the Minister without Portfolio, said: “The injustice of voting rights cannot go unchallenged.”

Zane DeSilva, the transport and tourism minister, added that he disagreed with the Opposition that the debate was not needed at present.

He said: “We must lay down a marker and we must lay it down early. We must let them know that we will defend the voting rights of the people of this county vigorously.”

Mr Brown added: “There is no reason why we should grant this privilege to UK citizens any more than we should grant it to any other citizens of any other country.”

He pointed out that the UK had more 63 million people and every parliamentary constituency had a larger population than Bermuda.

Michael Scott, also of the PLP MP, said the description of the Overseas Territories in the report as “Global Britain” was an attempt by the UK “to claw back lost revenues”.

He added the move was an example of neocolonialism, which had been “exacerbated” by Brexit, Britain's bungled attempt to leave the European Union.

Historical perspective: PLP MP Rolfe Commissiong (File photograph by Akil Simmons)

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Published March 25, 2019 at 9:00 am (Updated March 25, 2019 at 7:14 am)

MPs united in rejecting UK citizens vote

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