Brexit exposes divide between Britain and its Overseas Territories
LONDON - The decision to leave the European Union will create years of uncertainty for Britain’s overseas territories, new research suggests.
Dr Matt Benwell from Newcastle University and Dr Alasdair Pinkerton from Royal Holloway, University of London, argue that the role of the European Union in fostering their political, economic and regional security was ignored during the referendum even by so-called friends and supporters.
The authors say the campaign has “exposed deep and uncomfortable fissures about the security and sovereignty of the UK’s Overseas Territories”.
Discussion about these places during the referendum focused on the military, for example whether the British armed forces could still defend the Falkland Islands if Britain left the EU and the fact this location was seen as a ‘strategic gateway’ to Antarctica.
In Gibraltar, the only territory allowed to vote, and which was overwhelmingly in favour of remaining, benefits to its economy, workforce and security were ignored or underplayed.
The authors suggest this means the UK needs to find a new way to relate to these territories.
Benwell, a lecturer in human geography said: “The voices of the people who live in these places were not heard. When we talk about their security in this country, it tends to be from a military angle and of how they are of use to the UK. It doesn’t really take into account that Overseas Territories are also places where people live.
“What our research shows is that there is a big difference in how the UK views their security from a military perspective to how the territories themselves see it. For Gibraltar, EU membership provided diplomatic, economic and regional security. However, when the territories expressed support to remain, they were often greeted with irritation or dismay by their so-called ‘friends’.”
Looking to the future, Pinkerton noted: “As negotiations begin about leaving the European Union, Britain needs to work more closely with the Overseas Territories to fully understand what security means for their diverse communities, and what future relationship they wish to have with the UK and their nearest neighbours.
“Over the past week or so, we have already seen the UK and Argentina announce a ‘joint statement’ on areas of ‘mutual cooperation’. More such statements will follow as the UK prepares for a future outside the EU. It is imperative that Overseas Territories are fully consulted in agreements that affect their future, and are able to hold the UK government’s ‘feet to the fire’ – without fear of appearing disloyal and provoking the ire of their friends and supporters.”