The Unravelling of The British Empire: #Brexit & Beyond

The colonial past of the UK has many threads hanging on tentatively to the mother ship which Brexit is a real and present danger to.

In the referendum to leave the European Union, Gibraltar, an Overseas Territory, had a vote in the EU referendum and returned a 96% Remain vote.

The UK has 14 overseas territories. Gibraltar is the only one of these that had a vote in the 2016 EU referendum as it is part of the EU. The other Overseas Territories benefited from the EU, not as members, but with access to free trade and funding especially to mitigate the effects of climate change.

Crown Dependencies

The UK also has 3 Crown Dependencies –  the Bailiwick of Jersey, the Bailiwick of Guernsey (which includes Alderney and Sark) and the Isle of Man. They did not have a vote in the EU referendum but also had favourable free trade arrangements with the EU due to their constitutional position. The Crown Dependencies have never been colonies of the UK. Their relationship with the UK is through the monarch (thus the name) but there is no formal constitutional document to record this.

Guernsey: Image by Olly Browning

The Overseas Territories and the Crown Dependencies are ‘self-governing’ to varying degrees. All will be affected by Brexit. Their voices have been largely unheard and ignored over the UK leaving the EU but they well understand the implications of the Leave decision.

British Virgin Islands

Situated in The Caribbean, The British Virgin Islands, consist of over 54 islands with about 16 of them populated. They are British Citizens since 2002.

beach birds calm clouds
Photo by Pixabay on

The greatest threat to the islands is Climate Change with rising sea levels and extreme weather with the frequency and strength of hurricanes. Hurricane Irma, a category 5 hurricane, struck the islands on 6th September 2017. Four people were killed with many others dying in the months following. The infrastructure of the islands was devastated. The UK Government sent military and medical aid. At the time the UK Government was heavily criticised for what was seen as a paltry response to the disaster.

As an overseas territory The British Virgin Islands was eligible for EU funding to tackle Climate Change. Benito Wheatley of the BVI, speaking at the Vitrual Islands Summit on Saturday, said they are extremely concerned that this EU funding will cease after the transition period ends and that the UK will not support this vital work in the same way. He would like to see much more funding coming from the UK Government to limit the impact of climate change on the islands.

The EU is the largest trading partner of The Caribbean. It’s 15 countries, including territories with direct links to European countries: 4 French outermost regions, and 6 Dutch, 1 French, and 5 British Overseas Territories, have partnership agreements with the EU. If there is no deal with the EU, the UK and The Overseas Territories will require to trade under World Trade Organisation (WTO) rules. This will impose increased tariffs on traded goods making them much more expensive.

International trade has been severely limited with Covid19. Many countries went into lockdown and, although some have eased those restrictions, as Covid19 continues to increase around the globe many more limitations are likely to be enforced. The interruption to food supplies which many islands rely on has brought the question of food security into sharp focus.

Food security and rising prices will not only affect islands but the UK mainland too.

The Falkland Islands

The Falkland Islands (Malvinas) has a population of about 3,500 people. As a UK Overseas Territory it is heavily dependent on public services with financial and strategical support from the UK.

Port Stanley, User:Tom L-C edit by User:TSP / CC BY-SA (

50% of the GDP of The Falklands is linked to trade with the EU through Fisheries and Agriculture. Its Fishing sector collaborates with Spain in joint ventures with its products all going through Galicia. For example one third of calamari in the EU is imported from The Falklands . In Galicia, Spain, 6,000 jobs are linked to the fishing sector in The Falklands either with fish or the construction and supply of vessels.

It is estimated that over 250,000 people live in the British Overseas Territories. This remnant of an Empire includes thousands of islands, ocean and part of Antarctica. The dual challenges to the UK of Brexit and Covid19 will significantly impact on the funding for the Overseas Territories not just to tackle Brexit and Covid, but also the even greater challenges of climate change.

In Scotland, the focus has been on the threat to devolution with the ‘power grab’ by the UK Government and exiting the EU despite voting overwhelming to remain in. Across the world, however, leaving the EU, most likely without a trade agreement, on 1st January 2021, will weaken and strain the threads to the furthest outposts of what was the British Empire.

Reporter: Fiona Grahame

8 replies »

  1. Both of the above comments are valid and raise important points for consideration but regardless, this is still an excellent article as it brings these facts and thoughts to many people who will not have thought about the position of these dependencies to date. Personally I hadn’t known they were excluded from the EU vote which is a disgrace given how it will now significantly affect them

    • Exactly Ian. This is why its so important at the next independence referendum, the vote is given to all Scots no matter where they live, including England.
      Scotland is the land of their birth and it should be their inalienable right to decide the future of their country.

      • Yes Lachlaun – just like the Palestinian exiles in Lebanon, Turkey, Syria, Jordan and elsewhere.
        They have the inalienable right to return to their birthplace if they wish Just like a Scot in foreign lands. If this is so then they must have a vote in the referendum, which must be a binding one.

      • It may be the land of their birth ,but why should they get to decide how the people who still live here now and in the future should go forward.A friend now retired and living in France voted No in 2014 and Yes in 2016 those votes do nothing to change his life ,but has had much impact on those here in Scotland .!!!

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