The Foreign Affairs Committee of the House of Commons last week ignited a firestorm of disagreement and debate among different factions resident in U.K. Overseas Territories, including the Cayman Islands.
The committee issued its bombshells in the form of recommendations – the very suggestion of which is being interpreted as a threat to the rights of British overseas territories to govern their own internal affairs.
The explosive topics include same-sex marriage, voting and electoral rights for “non-Caymanians” (or relevant immigration statuses in other jurisdictions), and public beneficial ownership registers.
We will not in this column reiterate or establish our positions on the issues themselves. On the subject of the enfranchisement of U.K citizens wishing to seek elected office, however, Premier Alden McLaughlin had no such reservations.
During the Chamber of Commerce’s Legislative Luncheon, he declared, “The day the U.K. government seriously considers that persons who are not Caymanians can stand for office here, is the day I will lead the charge for independence. Because that is akin to an attempt to take over the territory and to decide and impose their will on the direction the country should take.”
On one level, we understand Mr. McLaughlin’s passionate reaction to the recommendation, which would radically change one of the fundamental tenets of history and democracy in Cayman. Nevertheless, the recommendation of expanding the right of franchise or access to elected office is neither a novel nor radical proposal.
(In another form during another time – the mid-1700s – it was the British themselves who engendered the phrase, “No taxation without representation,” coined as a rallying cry by American colonialists in their lead-up to the Revolutionary War.)
The tone and the title of the current report, “One family: rethinking Britain’s relationship with the Overseas Territories,” make clear that committee members see “Mother England” as a strict parent whose commands are certainly more than mere suggestions.
However, the “I-word” (“independence”) should never be bandied about casually, even in moments of high emotion. The impact of those words, especially when uttered by the premier of these islands, can be far greater than he – or anyone – originally intended.
Contrast Mr. McLaughlin’s remarks with the more diplomatic response by Governor Martyn Roper, a veteran diplomat. In a statement that was far more sober and restrained, the governor’s office assured the public a reply would be forthcoming “in due course.”
“I will ensure that the strong feelings this has aroused across our islands are fully explained to the FCO,” Mr. Roper said, noting that the committee is a committee of the Parliament, whose views are not necessarily those of the government.
“They don’t have power to impose on territory; they make recommendations,” he reminded.
In other words: Don’t break out the torches (or depending on your side on the issues, celebratory fireworks) just yet.