The fear that the United Kingdom government will seek to get rid of the Belonger status has been quelled by a document that was released on 14 May by His Excellency Governor Augustus Jaspert.
There was concern about the abolition of the Belonger status based on statements in the Foreign Affairs Committee (FAC) report which was published on 21 February. The document called on the Foreign and Commonwealth Office (FCO) to lay out a timetable for the consultation process and set a deadline for phasing out discriminatory elements of Belongership, or its territory-specific equivalents.
The report condemned the Territory’s Belonger status stating: “Belongership and its equivalents are wrong. While we recognise that the OTs (Overseas Territories) are small communities with unique cultural identities, we do not accept that there is any justification to deny legally-resident British Overseas Territory and UK citizens the right to vote and to hold elected office.”
The Belonger status came into being as a result of Margaret Thatcher’s ‘British Nationality Act 1981’ which came into force in 1983. Subsequently, the British Nationality Act has been amended. The British Overseas Territories Act 2002 is an Act of the Parliament of the United Kingdom which superseded parts of the British Nationality Act 1981. It makes legal provision for the renaming of the British Dependent Territories as British Overseas Territories, and the renaming of associated citizenship. As a result of the act, all who were British Overseas Territories citizens (apart from those solely connected with the Cyprus Sovereign Base Areas) immediately prior to 21 May 2002 automatically became full British citizens on that date (previously full British citizenship was either automatically accorded or granted without conditions on request only to people from Gibraltar and the Falkland Islands). The law was enacted five years after the end of British sovereignty over Hong Kong, whose population had been vastly greater than all other British Dependent Territories put together..
The FAC report stated that the Belonger status elevates one group of British people over another and risks undermining the ties that bind the UK and the OTs together in one global British family. Therefore, the Committee suggested that the UK Government initiate a consultation with the elected governments of the OTs and work with them to agree a plan to ensure that there is a pathway for all resident UK and British Overseas Territory citizens to be able to vote and hold elected office in territory.
However, in its response – released this week – the United Kingdom Government explained that it has no intention of interfering with the Belonger status. The document said: “The UK Government understands the Committee’s concerns and continues to impress upon OT governments the importance of allowing people who have made their permanent home in the territories the ability to vote and engage fully in the community, but recognizes the desire of island communities to maintain their cohesion, hence the need for a reasonable qualifying process.”
Further the UK Government said that it is mindful of the various factors surrounding the Belonger status: “We understand the OTs‟ concerns, sensitivities and historical background on this issue. Our vision for the OTs is as vibrant and flourishing communities, with the widest possible opportunities for their people. We expect Territory Governments to meet the same high standards as the UK Government in maintaining the rule of law, respect for human rights and integrity in public life, delivering efficient public services, and building strong and successful communities.”
“In the spirit of a relationship based upon partnership, we will continue to support and encourage consistent and open political engagement on belongership and its territory-specific equivalents, whilst respecting the fact that immigration decisions are primarily a matter for OT governments. The FCO does not plan at a future date to publish such a timetable,” the UK stated.