It suited the old political right to regard the British Empire as an uplifting agency whereby their western value system would be imposed on so-called ‘savages’ in what is now referred to as the Third World. Few then could have predicted a time when an allegedly Labour Party would adopt such supremacist ideas into its policy, yet something very similar is what NuLab now intends to push through parliament.
In a White Paper on Britain’s remaining Dependent Territories except for the Falklands and Gibraltar, the government wants to restore to all of them their automatic rights to British citizenship, which was taken away in 1962. The full list of dependencies is: Anguilla, Bermuda, British Indian Ocean Territory, British Virgin Islands, Cayman Islands, Falkland Islands, Gibraltar, Guernsey, Jersey, Isle of Man, Montserrat, Pitcairn Islands, Saint Helena, Turks and Caicos Islands, South Georgia and the South Sandwich Islands.
So far, so good…. But, as always, there is a catch. The dependencies have been told that first their own laws must be brought into line with British/EU law and “human rights requirements”. Some of these little countries for instance still retain the death sentence, or homosexuality as an imprisonable offence. There has, however, been little inclination on the part of the islanders to apply these penalties in recent times. Whatever one’s own view on such matters, there has to be a niggling doubt about the morality of imposing our notions of justice upon other peoples and societies, a question of whether doing so is just another manifestation of colonialism, albeit in humanitarian guise.
Is there more to this than meets the eye? Under the smokescreen of human rights, something rather different is afoot. The Daily Telegraph, 5 March 1999, stated that “the territories have voiced concern at EU efforts to harmonise corporate taxes, under the guise of ending harmful tax competition”. Bermuda is particularly concerned that its low rate of corporate tax could be a prime target. The demand for tighter fiscal regulation follows EU pressure on all member states to clamp down on tax havens in their dependencies.
Though there might be a good intention behind that, is handing over what already limited powers you have to a foreign and unrepresentitive body such as the EU really the answer? No doubt the EU would like the EuroCentral Bank to have overall control. The big corporates would still avoid tax; indeed, since the government is forever appeasing and subsidising them, that initially plausible “tax-havens” argument they are offering simply does not ring true. This is not about havens, but about control and power; and if we have reservations about the wisdom of bureaucrats and bankers centrally dictating our economic policy from just across the Channel, then by the same reasoning we should be extremely wary of extending their control even further afield. The transnational corporates, and other EU countries, seek unrestricted access to resources around certain of the dependencies, and Blair’s way would suit their purpose….
But wait — what of British rule itself? Well, these places had become pretty autonomous, as evidenced by the very fact of having the same legal system but different laws. We don’t wish to lose association with them, and the feeling is mutual; things like them being caught up in a trade war between the EU and USA over bananas (it is also the case that big UK supermarkets and EU specifications were already making life difficult for some, and the quarrel was more over protecting us from hormone-loaded beef and genetically modified crops, with the same American corporates standing to gain from EU defeat in both) typify why these small countries need larger protectors to avoid falling or being pushed under ruthless corporate domination. Unfair, but sadly true.
Here is a curious contradiction. Blair has offered the dependencies EU control and UK citizenship, yes — but there has been no mention of MPs to represent these peoples in the UK parliament. There seems not to be any safeguard to prevent their little communities being swamped by UK, or indeed EU, emigrants considerably more affluent than the local populations… we need not worry about their people coming here, it is the other way round! If the people of these dependencies are to have the option of full British passports (which they should) and are to be subjected to and conform to all British and EU laws, then surely they must also be entitled to direct representation in the parliaments which make these regulations…. Otherwise, what can all this government concern amount to but a cynical dose of latter-day — and now, it would seem, ‘politically correct’ — imperialism?