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Dunkley: OBA did not pursue full Caricom membership

Seat at the table: David Burt, the Premier, joined other heads of Caribbean states at the Conference of Caricom Heads of Government in Guyana this week (Photograph supplied)

A former premier insists that his government was not seeking full membership in the Caribbean Community despite the existence of a 2016 letter from London allowing it to negotiate directly in the region.

“The One Bermuda Alliance Government had no intention of changing the current relationship with Caricom,” Michael Dunkley said.

Last Friday, David Burt, the Premier, argued in the House that the OBA should stand down in criticising and opposing the Progressive Labour Party’s push for full Caricom membership because it too had been granted the authority to initiate negotiations and conclude agreements with Caribbean regional organisations.

He was discussing the recent receipt of Letters of Entrustment from Britain, which authorise Bermuda to press ahead with negotiations for full Caricom membership, when he noted that the OBA had received a similar Entrustment in 2016.

“This Entrustment was signed indicating acceptance of its terms by the Honourable Member, the former premier, Michael Dunkley,” Mr Burt said.

“This perhaps explains why the Honourable Leader of the Opposition did not address full membership in Caricom in his initial Reply to the Throne Speech. They knew of this Entrustment while we on this side of the House, and indeed, the public did not.

“In any event, I am sure that this means that the exploration of full membership in Caricom will enjoy bipartisan support in this House, unless of course this is another position on which the Opposition wishes to reverse itself.”

Mr Dunkley, who was Premier between 2014 and 2017, insists that his government had not sought to join the grouping.

“The Entrustment dated March 2016 had nothing to do with pursuing full membership in Caricom,” Mr Dunkley said.

“My recollection is that the Entrustment enabled the Government to deal with the Pan-American Health Organisation, the Caribbean Public Health Agency, and other agencies in matters of mutual interest.”

The Royal Gazette requested copies of the most recent Letter of Entrustment and the 2016 Letter of Entrustment from the Government’s Department of Communications.

Mr Burt is attending a meeting of the Conference of Caricom Heads of Government in Guyana, accompanied by backbencher Christopher Famous.

On Sunday, he held a meeting with David Rutley, the UK Minister for the Overseas Territories.

In a statement issued on Sunday, Mr Burt said it was “an honour” to attend the meeting. He added: “Climate action and energy sustainability will feature heavily on the agenda and we expect to provide updates on Bermuda's progress in that area and the steps we've taken since COP28.

“Additionally, there have been some key developments here in Bermuda, such as the passage of our Corporate Income Tax legislation that I am eager to update my fellow Heads of Government on.

“Ultimately, our participation signals Bermuda's commitment to regional co-operation and mutual development, and we welcome the opportunity to strengthen the bonds that unite us.”

Walter Roban, the Minister of Home Affairs and Deputy Premier, is expected to head up future negotiations with Caricom over Bermuda’s full membership.

On Friday, Mr Roban acknowledged that Bermuda could not hold talks with its Caribbean neighbours unless authorised to do so by Whitehall, which has oversight of the island’s foreign affairs.

Mr Roban told The Royal Gazette: “We have received the Entrustment letter, although we will have some discussions with Government House because there have been previous entrustments which might impact this in some way.

“The Premier has just received the Entrustment from the UK, so that now guides what we do. We have to share that entrustment with Caricom at some point and it’s only then I can get information about what might be a part of any considerations Bermuda might make in membership.

“I could not do anything on this until I received that Entrustment. That was made very clear to us from the Secretary General of Caricom. They must see the Entrustment before they give us even a paper clip.

“Now we have the Entrustment, we can send it on to them and they can respond accordingly.

“There are some other activities that we will develop on-island and you will be informed what they are and what we are doing to build up capacity to have the conversation we want to have with the public about this.”

Bermuda has been an associate member of Caricom since 2003.

The 15 member states of Caricom are expected to ratify proposals allowing free movement of people within the organisation next month.

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Published February 29, 2024 at 8:00 am (Updated February 29, 2024 at 7:44 am)

Dunkley: OBA did not pursue full Caricom membership

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