Bermuda and UK can take pride in making progress to a fairer world, says Deputy Governor
Bermuda’s new Deputy Governor has reflected on the legacy of colonialism along with the positive shared accomplishments of Bermuda and the UK.
Tom Oppenheim, who was twice posted to the British Embassy in Moscow, also shared his sense of tragedy from the war raging in Ukraine since Russia invaded in February.
Speaking to The Royal Gazette in the wake of his swearing-in on Monday, Mr Oppenheim elaborated on his reference to the links and history shared by the two countries that were “both proud and shameful”.
“It’s clear that history matters everywhere you go and that’s absolutely the case here in Bermuda,” he said.
He noted a speech last December by UK Foreign Secretary Liz Truss in which she said that Britain’s history, “warts and all”, had made its citizens “what we are today”.
Mr Oppenheim said yesterday: “That’s really the point I was trying to make. There are parts of our history as the United Kingdom and parts of your history as Bermudians, which will make you swell with pride, and rightly so.
“There are moments where the UK has stood up to aggression and moments where the UK and Bermudians have been part of advances in science, the arts and exploration.”
The Deputy Governor said people could feel pride in making “progress towards a better and fairer world, where people who are less advantaged are protected rather than preyed upon by those who have more advantages”.
“You can look at the history of the suffragette movement, the history of slavery and the slave trade whether in the British Empire or in Bermuda specifically as moments where there are very clearly elements of which we should be ashamed.
“But also where abolition and the campaign that came from a strong civil society and a sense of right and wrong was a world-leading moment, and profoundly impacted on the development of the Western world.
“There are moments of acknowledgement that you can put things right or address wrongs.”
Mr Oppenheim, who replaced Alison Crocket as Deputy Governor, said he was “genuinely looking forward to people telling me their experiences and their views”.
His appointment marks a first time in Bermuda after a career including a spell as Deputy High Commissioner to the Solomon Islands, and in the British Embassy in Zimbabwe.
His experience in Russia totals more than six years: first from 2012 to 2015, and “three and a half years this time around”, shortly before the invasion was launched on February 24.
He called the war “a tragedy” and “a huge series of mistakes”.
“We welcomed the Defence Secretary (Ben Wallace) and the Foreign Secretary to Moscow in February.
“That invitation happened precisely because we were very concerned this was being planned.”
He said the UK and US had been “very open” about intelligence indications pointing to the coming war.
“What’s happened since is truly horrific.”
Mr Oppenheim said Russia’s invasion of Ukraine had altered world geopolitics and again referenced Ms Truss’s speech on “the importance of building stronger global alliances of assertive and confident free nations”.
“She talked about a network of liberty and a sense that because we are free and democratic as a country, that’s where our strength and power come from.”
He said he was inspired by “the sense that we get this right when we want to make the system in which we work, work for the people rather than the people who live in a country working for the system”.
“I said this in my speech this week. I’m here to serve the people who live here, through the system.”
Mr Oppenheim said it was difficult to give an appraisal of the unfolding crisis in the British Virgin Islands, where former Governor John Rankin now serves.
The report of a Commission of Inquiry into the BVI’s governance of last week recommended suspending the British overseas territory’s constitution and placing the Caribbean country under direct rule from London.
Mr Oppenheim said he did not know Mr Rankin personally but he had been “a very experienced member of our service for a very long time”.
He said the decision on BVI governance would be announced by Amanda Milling, the Minister for Overseas Territories, in the wake of her emergency trip to the islands.
The Deputy Governor declined to give a personal view on a showdown between the Bermuda Government and Government House over the Cannabis Licensing Act 2022.
Rena Lalgie, the Governor, has the power to withhold her signature from the Act or refer the legislation to London if it runs counter to the UK Government’s obligations under international treaties.
“I think the situation has been actually constitutionally quite clear,” Mr Oppenheim said.
“The legislation goes to the Governor and the Governor then makes a decision as to whether to assent or to deny assent.
“That’s a consideration which is currently under way and she has been clear in public about what her position is.”