British Colonial Plans Under Fire
Associated Press, April 12, 1999
By Michelle Faul
Britains new effort to modernize a holdover from the days of empire laws
that its colonies have kept unchanged for more than 100 years is firing up a
rebellion among some of the queens not-so-loyal subjects.
In a formal proposal in March, London said its 13 remaining colonies must scrap the
death penalty, drop laws against homosexuality and end secretive banking rules if they
want the prestige and security of remaining British.
"The churches will have an uproar," Chief Minister Ralph ONeal of the
British Virgin Islands says of the demand that the colonies scrap laws making homosexual
sex a crime.
And rather than dropping the death penalty, which hasnt been used in years
because of Britains resistance, he wants to extend it to include drug traffickers.
"Those are the people who have no regard for life," he argues.
Londons demands smack of "a form of imperialism," ONeal says.
The strongest reaction has been in Bermuda, where some people suggested the island
might be better off going it alone.
"We need a referendum to decide whether or not the country wants to be tied to the
United Kingdom," former Premier Pamela Gordon says. "If not, then the only
choice would be independence."
Its the first time in years such a notion has been given serious thought in
Bermuda the oldest colony since it was settled in 1609 by Britons headed for
Virginia and thrown off course by a storm.
But the most populated colony, with 60,000 people, has grown wealthier per capita than
Britain by encouraging "offshore banking," locally based banks that offer
foreigners secretive refuges for their money.
In discussions about the colonial relationship, Britains colonies had been
pushing for more autonomy and more aid especially Caribbean islands that three
centuries ago were cash cows for the British Empire through a sugar industry manned by
One welcome proposal in the colonial blueprint presented to Britains Parliament
in March was the offer to rescind the second-class citizenship that was forced on the
colonies to prevent an influx of immigrants into Britain.
Foreign Minister Robin Cook said Britain is ready to return without conditions the full
citizenship rights revoked in 1981 for its colonies from Anguilla in the Caribbean
to St. Helena halfway between Africa and South America to the Pitcairn Islands in the
Back then, fearing mass migration among Hong Kongs 6.4 million people ahead of
the islands handover to China, Prime Minister Margaret Thatchers government
made people in the colonies "British subjects" and stripped them of the
automatic right to live and work in Britain.
That caused a "strong sense of grievance," Cook noted, not least because
Thatcher excluded Gibraltar and the Falklands the only colonies with overwhelmingly
Cook still had a hard time getting Prime Minister Tony Blairs Cabinet to agree to
his proposal. There are concerns that Hong Kong residents could sue for similar rights,
and fears of an influx from the 148,000 black British subjects in the Caribbean.
Cook argued such fears are unfounded.
The change will give colonial residents "the right to travel freely throughout the
European Union, and will enable their young people to support themselves through work
experience while they study in Britain," he said.
That has been most welcomed by the 6,000 people on St. Helena, which has high
unemployment, and those from Montserrat, a Caribbean island abandoned by most of its
12,000 people because of an active volcano. The two islands are the only colonies that
still receive British aid.
For most opponents of Britains proposal, the major sticking point is
Londons insistence that its colonies meet the standards of international
organizations to which Britain belongs.
"Specifically, we require changes in the law in a minority of overseas territories
which retain corporal punishment and criminalize consensual homosexual acts in
private," Cook said.
If the islands local governments do not comply, Britain will change their laws
for them, he said. "We are committed to seeing it is done."
Cook said that includes abolishing the death penalty and tightening regulation of
offshore banking, which has become the lifeblood of Bermuda, the British Virgin Islands
and the Cayman Islands.
Critics of the shadowy offshore banks contend billions of dollars in illicit drug
profits are "laundered" through those operations every year.
The islands say they have strengthened supervision of the industry. But Cook wants them
to force the highly secretive offshore banks to open their books to foreign investigators.
Bermudas government had to fight hard last year to stay off a blacklist of
questionable offshore jurisdictions being compiled by the multinational Organization for
Economic Cooperation and Development.
And with offshore banking contributing to one of the highest per capita annual incomes
in the world $36,000 Londons demands could drive Bermudans to forsake
Bermudas premier, Jennifer Smith, says she finds "nothing threatening"
in Britains plan but wants to study the demand for the abolishment of the death
But a legislator from her party, John Barritt, says he may have to reconsider his
opposition to independence. "For me, it amounts to a reassertion of the parent-child
relationship," he says.