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Sir John criticises Caricom membership proposal

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Sir John Swan, a former premier, addresses moves by the Bermuda Government for full membership to Caricom (Photograph by Blaire Simmons)

Any move for full membership to the Caribbean Community and Common Market would jeopardise the island’s existing relationships with the United States and Britain, and should be put to a referendum, according to Sir John Swan.

“I do not see any benefit,” the island’s longest-serving premier said, insisting the island had more pressing business close to home.

Sir John warned of global uncertainty in which Bermuda would be more secure cultivating its present ties.

The remarks drew a scathing response from Walter Roban, the Deputy Premier, who branded it “a regrettable stance to be taken by a supposed National Hero” and likened Sir John’s viewpoint to that of the former colonial rulers of the Caribbean.

Mr Roban accused Sir John of having shown “overt discrimination against West Indians and their Bermudian families” during his tenure as premier and home affairs minister under the United Bermuda Party.

The Deputy Premier called Sir John’s critique of full Caricom membership “hardly surprising”.

He added: “Sir John would do well to remember that it is this government that has set up representative offices in London, Washington and Brussels, and so those bases are expertly covered.

“This is an old playbook from his UBP days: denigrate the Caribbean while making loads of money by investing and having business interests there.

“In that sense, he is not different to the colonisers.”

The war of words came after it was announced in the Throne Speech this month that the Government will begin a consultation process “leading to full membership in Caricom”.

Sir John warned that the membership, which is expected to come with free movement of Caricom nationals as of next year, could threaten the US Customs pre-clearance at LF Wade International Airport or the island’s visa-free access to the US.

He said: “I negotiated that deal a long time ago — it’s worked well for us.”

Sir John argued that working with the US to get residents off the travel “stop list” for minor drug offences was “the type of relationship we should be talking about”.

He added that free movement of workers among Caricom states would deprive Bermudian businesses of selecting their staff.

“Your immigration policy should be based on the merit of people, regardless of where they come from,” the former UBP premier said, acknowledging his own Caribbean ancestry.

“I hold dearly the Caribbean to my heart,” he said. “I think it’s not about culture; it’s about survival. It’s about reality.”

Sir John Swan, a former premier, addresses moves by the Bermuda Government for full membership to Caricom (Photograph by Blaire Simmons)

Asked if he saw the move as a political ploy, Sir John said it might be “just a test” or a “distraction”.

“This is not the time,” he said, insisting that such a move should be “by the people, for the people and of the people, if you believe the country is ready for something of such magnitude”.

Sir John said Bermuda could not afford to risk its existing comfortable relationship with the international business sector, and that the island, more than 1,000 miles north of the Caribbean, was too different to benefit.

“We do not belong in that sphere. We belong up here,” he claimed,

Sir John added: “We have a relationship with the Caribbean. In the associate membership, that’s fine. But to suggest that we now become full members, I think, is wrong.

“I could not stand by.”

July marked 50 years since the signing of the Treaty of Chaguaramas, which established Caricom in 1973 — and Bermuda’s 20th anniversary of associate membership in the organisation.

That move in 2003 was led by Dame Jennifer Smith, then Premier, who viewed it as “a coming of age for Bermuda”, saying in advance that the island had already been “an associate member on everything except in name”.

However, Sir John called on the island’s public “not to just sit around and let things happen”.

He said: “My suggestion is, if the public feels strongly, if the Government feels strongly about it, put it to a referendum.”

• UPDATE: this article has been amended to include video, additional comments from Sir John, and a government response

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Published November 22, 2023 at 10:02 am (Updated November 22, 2023 at 10:02 am)

Sir John criticises Caricom membership proposal

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