Why do we keep playing the protectorate game? December 31, 2007 at 8:13 am
The crown dependencies are possessions of the British Crown: the Isle of Man, Jersey and Guernsey are the principal dependencies. The British Government is solely responsible for defense and international representation of the dependencies, although each island has responsibility for its own customs and immigration. All ‘insular’ legislation has to receive the approval of the ‘Queen in Council’, in effect, the Privy Council in London, with a UK minister being the Privy Councillor with responsibility for the Crown dependencies.
Acts of the British Parliament do not usually apply to the Channel Islands and the Isle of Man, unless explicitly stated, and even this is increasingly rare. When deemed advisable, Acts of Parliament may be extended to the Islands by means of an ‘Order in Council’, although normally the agreement of the dependency administrations would be sought first.
In addition (and constitutionally distinct) there are the British Overseas Territories. These fourteen territories – including Bermuda, the British Virgin Islands and the Cayman Islands – are under UK sovereignty, but they are not part of the United Kingdom itself.
Each Overseas Territory has its own legal system independent of the United Kingdom. The legal system is generally based on English common law, with some distinctions for local circumstances. Each territory has its own Attorney General and court system. Defense of the Overseas Territories is the responsibility of the UK. Neither the overseas territories nor the crown dependencies are full members of the EU.
More or less anything to do with the constitutional affairs of these little bits of land is complicated by history, precedent, residual monarchism and colonialism, and the lack of political will for change. None of that however is reason to simply accept the status quo. Between them the dependencies and territories account for many of the world’s tax havens. Their financial systems deprive the UK Exchequer of billions of tax revenue, probably hundreds of billions. They encourage tax avoidance, facilitate money laundering, and contribute little in return beyond the occasional friendly harbour for the Royal Navy. Yet we provide these islands with defense and a variety of forms of aid. That is simply illogical. It is clearly not in UK interests to support the dependencies and territories, especially given the other calls on the defense budget and the fact that this budget is smaller than it could be thanks to the tax arbitrage opportunities these very same islands provide. If they want the shield of the UK military and the UK AAA rating then they should pay UK tax. If they don’t want to do that then we should cut the tax havens loose without a second thought.
Both practically and legally the UK has the apparatus to enforce a decision on the protectors and dependencies. Some will doubtless prefer to remain British – and in that case we should extend full citizenship and EU membership to them in exchange for their tax revenue: examples here might well include the islands with less developed financial systems such as the Falkland Islands, the Pitcairn Islands and South Georgia. Others such as Jersey or Bermuda may well decide to go it alone. But in that case they should be treated as any other foreign country, their populace denied UK citizenship, and UK citizens living there treated as foreign domiciled. All in all it is high time we applied some cost/benefit analysis to our constitutional arrangements.