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UK MP says Order in Council should be lifted for new VI gov’t

With a new government in the Virgin Islands (VI) elected, following general elections of April 24, 2023, a British Member of Parliament believes the Government of the United Kingdom (VI) should now lift the Order in Council to partially suspend the territory’s constitution.
James Sunderland, a British politician and former military officer who is currently serving as the Member of Parliament for Bracknell since 2019, said there is a need for a new trade arrangement with the Overseas Territories (OTs) to reflect the changes within the European Union and the other countries.

“The British Virgin Islands, for example, wants its prescriptive court order lifted. It has a new government and a superb new Prime Minister, so it’s time now for the BVI to fulfil its potential and to move forward,” Mr Sunderland, a Conservative Party member, stated during the debate titled Future of Overseas Territories in the House of Commons on May 11, 2023.

The controversial Order in Council was put in place following the release of the Report on the Commission of Inquiry (CoI) on April 29, 2023, to force the VI to swiftly implement recommendations made by a lone CoI Commissioner.

The Commissioner, a UK national, had recommended direct rule by the UK on the VI; however, following pushback from the Virgin Islands people, as well as support from CARICOM, Organisation of Eastern Caribbean States (OECS), University of the West Indies, US Virgin Islands (USVI) and the United Nations (UN), the UK decided to place an Order in Council to suspend the VI constitution on reserve.

The Order in Council in reserve has been likened by many to the UK holding a gun to VI’s head, which they argue is not representative of a modern partnership, but reeks of colonialism and even racism.

Threat of direct rule can ‘weaken democratic governance’- E. Benito Wheatley

In a statement to Members of the 77th Session of the UN General Assembly: Fourth Committee (Special Political and Decolonisation) in New York City on October 6, 2022, Special Envoy of the Premier Mr E. Benito Wheatley said the reserved Order in Council is a form of pressure that can weaken democratic governance and hinder a genuine working relationship between the VI and UK.

“This form of pressure can weaken democratic governance and is an obstacle to building a new genuine modern partnership between the UK and BVI that is based on trust and supports the aspirations of the people of the Territory.”

Mr Wheatley also told the UN there should also be sensitivity about the feelings of the Commonwealth Caribbean on this issue in terms of the colonial past.

“A new modern partnership can be established if both sides act in good faith,” Mr Wheatley had argued.

‘OTs should not be seen as subordinates’- MP James Sunderland

Meanwhile, Mr Sunderland, the All Party Parliamentary Group Chair, said the UK relationship with the Overseas Territories has been referred to recently as benign neglect.

“That’s a very powerful phrase. I don’t subscribe to that, but it is a wake-up call for us in this place and we need to do more, in my view to strengthen our relationship with the Overseas Territories.

Mr Sunderland also said the Overseas Territories should not be seen somehow as subordinates to the UK. “They simply want to be partners,” Mr Sunderland said, adding that self-determination for the OTs must also be perceived as real.

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