While making it clear that the BVI is not pushing to gain independence, government has announced that the territory is open to considering ‘alternative’ relationships with the UK such as ‘free association’.
In this instance, free association for the territory would effectively mean having a political alliance with the UK that does not come with ‘restrictions’ in how the BVI governs itself.
Special envoy for the VIP government Benito Wheatley mentioned considerations for free association while addressing the United Nation’s Special Committee on Decolonization (C-24) in New York last Thursday, June 27.
Wheatley said: “My purpose for being here today is not to embarrass the United Kingdom … The government still has a responsibility to ensure that the people of the British Virgin Islands are aware of the options available as they think about the territory’s future. There are other options beside independence that must be thought through, such as free association.”
Constitutional review likely next year
He said understanding the options will be particularly important ahead of the territory’s next constitutional review. He said the next review is likely to take place in the year ahead.
“We would welcome the UN sitting as an official observer to the public deliberations involved,” Wheatley said.
He further solicited help from the UN’s C-24 to facilitate an educational campaign on self-determination to educate the local population on what the range of options is for the territory’s future.
“It is in the interest of both the UK and BVI and that the UK and Overseas Territories renew their modern partnership that was predicated on mutual respect and responsibility. The opportunity should not be missed,” he said.
What is C-24
The C-24 is a committee that was established in 1961 to deal with the issues of decolonization. On an annual basis, the committee reviews the territories like the BVI that are not yet independent and make recommendations, organize seminars among others.
Though noting that the relationship between the BVI and the UK has been good, Wheatley said this good rapport does not preclude the BVI from updating the C-24 on the status of that relationship.
“Engagement with the Special Committee is our right, and the United Nations can play a positive role in providing an additional layer of accountability,” he reasoned.
“We have an obligation to update the C-24 on conditions on the ground on the islands and to highlight any areas where assistance is required to support the advancement of the society. We are also obliged to share any important developments in our relationship with the UK, even if this causes a bit of discomfort in some quarters,” Wheatley further said.
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