The two-day Joint Ministerial Council meeting between British Overseas Territories and the U.K. government began Tuesday at Lancaster House in London with welcome remarks from Cayman Islands Premier Alden McLaughlin, as president of the United Kingdom Overseas Territories Association.
Premier McLaughlin thanked Lord Ahmad, the minister with responsibility for Britain’s overseas territories, for his work on behalf of the territories, and expressed his thanks to U.K. ministers who attended the meetings despite important Brexit debates taking place in the House of Commons.
The day’s meetings focused on discussions about the U.K.’s exit from the European Union and related contingency planning, including updates on the domestic parliamentary process, trade policies and development funding.
Discussions included specialist details of overseas territories-related environmental work through the Department of Environment, Food and Rural Affairs, an overview of planning for a “no deal” Brexit scenario, trade policies following Brexit, and potential changes to funding through the Overseas Development Fund.
Overseas territory leaders were again advised that EU funding that supports environmental and other projects in the territories will be guaranteed by the U.K. until 2020. However, it was noted by some overseas territories leaders that this would still lead to problems for projects that need longer-term funding.
Cayman has benefited in the past from EU funding for projects including post-Ivan housing, the Doppler radar project and the Blue Iguana Recovery Program.
U.K. officials gave assurances to territories that have trade arrangements with EU countries, stating that the interests of the territories are considered together with those of the U.K. in the discussions on trade.
Each overseas territory is listed by name in the proposed EU withdrawal agreement, indicating that the U.K. is taking the territories and Crown Dependencies into consideration in a deal with the EU.
A government press release noted that there was “a lively discussion” about British Overseas Territories citizens, during which the U.K. agreed to address certain issues that may impact travelers to countries like the United States. Because BOTC passports are now electronically coded with the same electronic code as British passports, there have been occasional problems with some airlines. It was requested that BOTC passports should be encoded with a identifier for each territory to avoid the issue in the future.
“Today’s agenda was busy but productive, with a lot to get through on the Brexit agenda,” Mr. McLaughlin said at the end of Tuesday’s meeting. “We are grateful for the attendance of those from the U.K. Government who were able to give us updates as far as possible given the uncertainty of the day caused by the Brexit debates in the House of Commons.”
Minister for Financial Services and Home Affairs Tara Rivers, who also attended the meeting alongside Attorney General Samuel Bulgin, spoke with Lord Bates, the minister of state for international development, about the work done by the U.K. to press for funding in support of overseas territories damaged by hurricanes and other natural disasters.
She said more should be done and was assured that the U.K. government intends to work with the Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development to help foster a greater understanding of the needs and vulnerabilities of small island countries.
Anguilla, the British Virgin Islands and the Turks and Caicos Islands were unable to qualify for support from the U.K.’s $13 billion foreign development aid program after they were devastated by successive hurricanes last year, because they were deemed too wealthy under an income per capita formula set by the OECD.
The U.K. ultimately diverted US$74 million in disaster relief from sources outside of its approved aid budget and campaigned for changes to the formula to free up more funds to support its territories in the aftermath of natural disasters.
Under the new rules, agreed at a meeting of the OECD’s Development Assistance Committee in October, countries can become re-eligible for official development assistance if their income levels fall back below a per capita income threshold of $12,055 for one year. However, this is still unlikely to benefit all but the poorest territories.