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Extend Westminster voting rights to Britain’s remaining dependencies

Comment 1st July 2010

This proposal would grant the right to vote in Westminster elections to the citizens of Britain's overseas territories and crown dependencies.

Specifically, this would include the people of Anguilla, Ascension, Bermuda, the British Virgin Islands, the Cayman Islands, the Falkland Islands, Gibraltar, Montserrat, Pitcairn, St Helena, Tristan da Cunha and the Turks and Caicos Islands – as well as the former inhabitants of the Chagos Islands, and the people of the crown dependencies of the Channel Islands and Isle of Man.

Why does this matter?

This proposal is vital because it concerns what many consider the most fundamental civil liberty – the right to vote – and the fact that in 2010, British citizens in far-flung, oft-forgotten corners of the globe, remain disenfranchised by their sovereign government.

Most people won't have heard that in 2009, the British Government dissolved the government and parliament of the Turks and Caicos Islands in the Caribbean, and to this day administers the islands, through a British-appointed Governor, from the Foreign Office in London.

Most also won't know that the Turks and Caicos Islands are one of Britain's few remaining overseas territories – the relics of Empire many of which you'll struggle to see marked in atlases, never mind in insets on maps of Britain.

The move to direct rule by the UK Government was taken in response to alleged serious corruption in the Islands, and no doubt was performed with the best of intentions. Yet in the twenty-first century, good intentions are not in themselves sufficient justification for such a serious and undemocratic course of action.

It is surely unacceptable that we are still treating the territory like a colonial possession. Not only are the people of Turks and Caicos currently unable to vote in their own (dissolved) parliament – they cannot vote in Westminster elections either and thus have no representative in London to voice and pursue any concerns they may have. This despite being full British citizens who are fully subject to any legislation that the UK's Parliament, or Government through the Privy Council, chooses to extend to them.

Although most of our remaining dependencies have working democracies and parliaments of their own, the truth is that, even today, they are subject to the whim of Westminster for as long as they choose not to become independent. As events in Turks and Caicos showed, these local parliaments can be dissolved at will by British bureaucrats and ministers at the FCO.

Yet their citizens, British citizens, cannot vote for their sovereign government, which ultimately controls their fate. As a country often cited as the birthplace of democracy, which has fought a long, hard battle to win universal suffrage at home, surely voting rights for the people of our remaining inhabited colonies are long overdue – and not too much to ask.

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