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UK government is ‘neutering’ local decision-making, AG claims

Kathy Lynn Simmons, the Attorney General

The Bermuda Government was empowered to actively consider the “full range” of self-governance options when the UK Government’s actions had the effect of “erasure or neutering” local policies, the Attorney-General said.

Kathy-Lynn Simmons, who is also Minister of Legal Affairs and Constitutional Reform, told the House of Assembly that the Government knows all too well the “frictions” that occur with the United Kingdom and claimed these gave it the right to “actively consider the full range of self-governance options for Bermuda“.

She also said the Government was seeking a relationship with Britain based on “equality, rather than subordination in a post-colonial world”.

Ms Simmons was speaking as she defended the secret commissioning of a $50,000 report assessing Bermuda’s self-governance sufficiency in conformity by United Nations official Carlyle G. Corbin.

She told MPs that the report would probably be made public on December 2 after being reviewed by the Cabinet.

She also assured MPs that there was no “clandestine political plan to take Bermuda to sovereignty at any cost”.

She added: “There is no formula or pathway to sovereignty for Bermuda, which excludes an unambiguous democratic mandate from the Bermuda electorate.”

But under questioning from Opposition MP Jarion Richardson, she said a decision on whether such a mandate would be decided by way of a referendum or a General Election would be up to the Government.

This appeared to contradict an earlier statement by David Burt that the Progressive Labour Party manifesto made clear any decision would be made by way of a manifesto.

In her statement, Ms Simmons said: “As a mature nation, we know, understand and feel the impacts of the UK’s imposed limitations on the democratic will and aspirations of our people.

“This occurs whenever UK officials decide to exercise the reserved colonial powers, with the effect of erasure or neutering local policies and mandates.

“The challenges of maintaining the constitutional status quo of Elected Dependency Governance in Bermuda is becoming starkly contrasted against local aspirations of full self-governance and the desire for a modernised relationship with the UK – one based on equality rather than subordination in a post-colonial world.

“It is from a position of national democratic development that we are empowered to actively consider the full range of self-governance options for Bermuda via the constitutional reform process.”

Ms Simmons statements on local policies and mandates being “neutered” came after the UK’s foreign secretary withheld Royal Assent on cannabis licensing laws on the basis that they would violate the UK’s international treaty obligations.

Mr Burt had previously stated that such a decision would “destroy” Bermuda’s relationship with the UK.

Ms Simmons said in addition to technical modernisations to Bermuda’s constitutional relationship, the Government would also undertake “bolder steps towards a full measure of self-governance by legitimate and acceptable means”.

She said full self-governance was defined by the United Nations as Independence, integration with an administering state or free association’ with another sovereign state.

She said: “It is the Government’s position that constitutional reform in today’s context would be incomplete if it did not include the exploration of options for full self-governance for Bermuda – whether that is by way of sovereignty or one of the other internationally recognised pathways, such as integration or free association.”

She said that this month’s Throne Speech showed the Government intended to take a wider scope to constitutional reform encompassing a “mature approach” to discussions with the UK Government about self-determination for Bermuda, alongside public engagement at home through wide-ranging community discussion and education.

“That so-called mature approach and public engagement starts now, as we open up the dialogue by informing the public of the steps taken and the trajectory going forward,” she said.

She also revealed that she had attended a United National meeting in St Lucia in May and had delivered a statement to the United Nations in June.

She said that after the UN address, she had commissioned the assessment of self-governance sufficiency by Dr Corbin, international adviser on global governance, at a contracted price of $50,000.

‘We need a new arrangement with the United Kingdom’

Full text of a United Nations press release published after Kathy Lynn Simmons spoke to the UN General Assembly In June

Kathy Lynn Simmons, Attorney-General and Minister of Legal Affairs and Constitutional Reform of Bermuda, cited the Territory’s 53 years of productive constitutional democracy and self-government, noting that Bermuda is by any measure an advanced and mature society that enjoys limited engagement from its administering power, the United Kingdom.

However, she said, when the United Kingdom had involved itself in Bermuda’s affairs, such actions had often undercut the territory’s wishes and stifled its growth. Fault lines emerge routinely when the expressed will of Bermuda’s people is at odds with the will of the United Kingdom, even as the island lacks any say or vote in the United Kingdom’s Parliament.

Citing recent tensions, she said Bermuda embraced without reservation the right of its people to self-determination. However, she shared the General Assembly’s concern that more than 60 years after the adoption of the Declaration, 17 Non-Self-Governing Territories remain. Bermuda recalls the visiting mission sent to the territory and takes note of a 2021 Assembly resolution stressing the importance of the Bermuda Independence Commission, and it intends to build on the latter’s recommendations in the areas of constitutional reform and self-determination.

Bermuda also plans to examine the three options for self-determination identified by that Commission, which stand in contrast to the options previously presented by the United Kingdom.

“We need a new arrangement with the United Kingdom,” she stressed, calling for a more equal relationship with that country, underpinned by constitutional reform and the removal of all vestiges of colonialism.

She said Dr Corbin was “the best person” to conduct the assessment because he had designed a ‘Self-Governance Indicators’ diagnostic tool, which assessed self-governance sufficiency and preparedness of island non-self-governing countries.

She said the report gave insight “as to areas where there are structural, political or legal inequities in the constitutionally delegated power and authority to local officials, as assessed against the reserved powers of the sovereign – as exercised by the United Kingdom Government and/or Her Excellency the Governor”.

She added: “When we talk of full self-governance for territories we must understand that it is mandated under Article 73(b) of the UN Charter; and overseen by the work of the United Nations Special Committee on Decolonisation.

“It is also a requirement under the UN Charter, that member states support their territories with the progressive realisation of self-governance, decolonisation and/or sovereignty.”

She said a takeaway from the UN Mission’s 2005 observation on Bermuda was that there were “clear deficits” in public awareness of the issues around self-determination.

“Unsurprisingly, UN observers found little local knowledge of all the options available to Bermuda to achieve full self-governance,” she said. “The historic focus on independence alone, as the only option available to Bermuda, can be viewed as self-limiting.

“It does not align with the range of options open to all territories seeking full self-governance under the UN Charter.”

She said the Government would provide comprehensive public education and engagement to foster informed public dialogue regarding self-determination and self-governance.

“This will be an ongoing endeavour that will certainly ensure that the collective voice of Bermuda’s electorate is heard,” she said.

“Projecting forward, as a ‘Non-Self Governing Overseas Territory’ – to use another UN term – Bermuda will enter into comprehensive discussions on self-determination, self-governance and constitutional reforms that are vital to our continuing development as a nation.

“Next steps will also include exploring minimum standards that provide for the full measure of self-governance options available for Bermuda.

“Furthermore, a Cabinet decision will allow for a framework for defining, prioritising, discussing and approving what the path towards greater or a full measure of self-governance looks like for Bermuda.”

She added: “Constitutional reform is overdue. Bermuda’s collective advancement as a mature nation must coalesce around a strong, palpable, national identity and a declaration of the people of Bermuda to define how they chose to be governed.

“It is now ripe for present generations to have an active say in a constitutional reform process that is relevant to our democratic needs.”

She claimed that wider public input was fundamentally denied in the negotiations that produced the 1968 Constitution: “known, historic racialised disparities in political representation and the absence of other fundamental rights at the time … undermined the democratic legitimacy of the Constitutional model then“.

She added: “To redress those past wrongs, we believe, as a government, that Bermudians must be emboldened to reframe the Constitution – as a living instrument – with our ambitions to construct our island community into an image and vision fit for the Bermuda of today, and into the future.”

See the full statement under Related Media.

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Published November 19, 2022 at 7:53 am (Updated November 19, 2022 at 7:53 am)

UK government is ‘neutering’ local decision-making, AG claims

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