Modern Governance

Discovering the UK Overseas Territories – Modern Governance

The relationship between the Overseas Territories and the UK is one of modern partnership. This partnership is based on the principles of self-determination, ensuring the people of the Overseas Territories are able democratically to choose their own government and association with the United Kingdom.

The Overseas Territories each have a unique constitutional relationship with the UK. Adopting the Westminster System and English Common Law, the constitutions all ensure the inhabited Territories are internally self-governing, with their own democratically elected politicians, serving their people, acting as the decision-makers for their own Territory. It is also worth noting that all Overseas Territories are signed up to a variety of international treaties and conventions in areas from environmental protection through to child safeguarding.

Whilst the Overseas Territories enjoy growing autonomy, the UK retains responsibility for the security, defence, foreign affairs, and good governance in the Overseas Territories.

Outside of the UK, Bermuda is the oldest continuous Parliament in the Commonwealth and in 2020 it celebrated 400 years since its inception. Bermuda’s two-party parliamentary representative government is modelled on the Westminster system and it is considered as the most autonomous Overseas Territory, with the oldest constitution.

Gibraltar’s status was ratified by the Treaty of Utrecht in 1713, after the Overseas Territory was captured by the British in 1704. Gibraltar’s level of autonomy and self-governance has developed significantly since the Second World War, to the extent that the UK is now only responsible for the Territory’s foreign relations, security and defence. Gibraltar elects 17 Members of Parliament, 10 of whom form the government while seven serve as opposition Members. In addition, Gibraltar has twice rejected a change in its status, firstly in 1967, when 99.64% of Gibraltarians voted to remain British, and again in 2022, when 99% rejected a joint-sovereignty proposal with the UK and Spain.

Did you know that 96% of Gibraltarians voted to Remain in the European Union in the Brexit referendum?

Similarly, the Falkland Islands overwhelmingly voted to remain an Overseas Territory in 2013, with 99.8% wanting to retain self-governing status with the United Kingdom, and with a turnout of 92%. The Falkland Islands elects eight Members of Legislative Assembly every four years from two constituencies. With no party politics in the Islands, all elected Members are voted in as independents.

In Heroes Square, George Town, Grand Cayman during the Platinum Jubilee, Cayman’s local Town Crier read the Proclamation announcing the lighting of the beacons which took place later that evening.

Some Territories, such as the British Antarctic Territory and the Sovereign Base Areas of Akrotiri and Dhekelia, differ in how they are governed. For example, the British Antarctic Territory was formed on 3 March 1962, while before this point it was a Dependency of the Falkland Islands. The Government of the Territory is based in the Foreign, Commonwealth and Development Office in London.

For the Sovereign Base Areas of Akrotiri and Dhekelia, its administration is the civil administration for the Bases, and works closely with the Republic of Cyprus to ensure that they remain in-step with Cypriot counterparts, who also undertake some delegated functions such as education and welfare, in providing good and effective governance.

Quiz answer: C. 92%