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Premier accused of ‘cynical marketing exercise’ on Independence

Calling his bluff: former MP Rolfe Commissiong has accused David Burt of sabre-rattling over the issue of Independence (File photograph)

A former Progressive Labour Party MP has dismissed speculation that the Government is pressing ahead with Independence.

Instead, Rolfe Commissiong insisted that David Burt, the Premier, had instigated a “cynical political marketing exercise” while “kicking the can down the road”.

He also alleged that the PLP’s central committee had agreed a year ago to “essentially” ban party members from using the word Independence when representing the party or government publicly.

Mr Commissiong spoke out after Rena Lalgie, the Governor, blocked flagship legislation to legalise the use and sale of cannabis — a move that Mr Burt had said could “destroy“ Bermuda’s relations with Britain.

Speculation intensified last month after it was revealed that the Government had commissioned and received a report on self-governance options.

Mr Burt later declared that his support for sovereignty had grown since becoming Premier “because I have seen the disregard paid to our issues by the Government in London”.

But yesterday Mr Commissiong accused Mr Burt of sabre-rattling to satisfy the party’s grassroots supporters.

He said: “I never once believed that the Premier … had any intention of pursuing Independence, despite evoking as such over the speculation or leak that the Governor would not give assent to the then pending cannabis Bill.

“Even then most people had a choice of labelling that curious announcement as either naive or terribly cynical. I would take the latter.

“I postulate, but what country in modern history suddenly goes to Independence because of a failed bid to gain the Royal Assent on a cannabis Bill?

“That in contrast to the response to the speculation around the proposed cannabis Bill last year before it was tendered. They now are running desperately in the other direction using such terms such as self-government when it is clear that they are seeking only to claw some additional powers from the colonial power, the UK. In other words, independence without Independence.”

He added: “If they believe the Premier that the UK will move beyond the delegation of their powers by way of the signing of entrustments — let’s say in the area of internal security and foreign affairs — they are kidding themselves. But, of course, the Premier — the cynical one — already knows that.”

Mr Commissiong, who was MP for Pembroke South East for eight years, accused party leaders of being ignorant of Bermuda’s history.

He went on: “Nor do they really support Independence — save for rhetorically, when convenient — but they feel they must act as if they do.

“Because if they did support Independence, they would be arguing for it and not be indulging in this type of political obfuscation and cultural schizophrenia — another example of kicking the can down the road by Mr Burt. He, in fact, has kicked so many cans down the road that it is hard to even keep track of them any more.”

Mr Commissiong claimed that last year, party officials successfully moved to ban its members from using the word “independence” and replace it with “sovereignty”.

He said: “The other piece of evidence that this was all some cynical political marketing exercise — the Premier’s chief talent — was the fact that the central committee devoted over an hour trying to get a motion adopted that would essentially ban members using the word when representing the party or Government publicly.

“Subsequently that is all you have heard from even MPs like Walter Roban who should know better. They are all like parrots, using this term in the hope that those opposed to Independence would not get too upset with them by using the allegedly incendiary term Independence. You can’t make this stuff up.”

Mr Commissiong led a Bermuda Independence Commission delegation to London in 2006, and noted that “nothing had changed in the interim”.

He said: “The British — then as was the case now — are not going to relinquish any substantive power outlined in the constitutional order they imposed upon us in 1967, if only because that leaves them vulnerable to contingent liabilities.

“If we were serious about independence, we would have long put in place the systemic changes right after 2017’s election that are a necessary precursor to a more sustainable, equitable and united independent Bermuda.

“The same public policies that I have accused Mr Burt of kicking down the road over the last six years are the same public policies that are the foundation to the types of long-overdue systemic changes which are the precursor to Independence.

“That is what they should be focusing on — not this exercise in technocratic hubris as an empty substitute for real leadership.”

He also said other options, such as Bermuda being fully incorporated into Britain, were highly unlikely.

Earlier this year Mr Commissiong said that the PLP had no interest in implementing another progressive policy — a living wage.

He accused the party of becoming more conservative under Mr Burt’s leadership, but added that the shift began earlier when a number of UBP MPs crossed the floor.

He said: “Is the party as progressive and pro-labour as it has been in the more recent past? I don’t think so.”

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Published December 19, 2022 at 5:48 pm (Updated December 20, 2022 at 7:50 am)

Premier accused of ‘cynical marketing exercise’ on Independence

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