Published On: Mon, Dec 3rd, 2012

Britain admits tensions with overseas territories

GEORGE TOWN, Cayman Islands – Britain’s new overseas territories director, Dr Peter Hayes, has admitted that the nature of the relationship between the UK and its territories can be tense as a result of what he described as the UK’s obligations and responsibilities.

In a brief visit to the Cayman Islands last week, after earlier visiting the Turks and Caicos Islands, Hayes said, however, that it was important that the differences did not become personal and the parties retained a cool professional attitude so they could work together to face the current challenges common to countries all over the world.

He denied that the UK had taken control of Cayman’s purse strings but rather that the Framework for Financial Responsibility (FFR) recently agreed to by the Cayman Islands government at Britain’s insistence, was an agreement placing boundaries on finances, but leaving the local government free to make decisions within those boundaries.

The FFR was the subject of a recent faceoff between Cayman Islands premier, McKeeva Bush, and newly-appointed British Overseas Territories Minister Mark Simmonds, raising fears locally that Britain may thereby be forced to impose direct rule as was done in relation to the Turks and Caicos Islands in 2009.

Bush later backed down in the face of British intransigence on the issue and, with opposition support, allowed the FFR as originally agreed with the UK to be passed into law instead of his own unilaterally revised version, despite a revolt in his own party.

Last week, Hayes said the FFR was an agreement between both the Cayman government and the UK that set the parameters regarding what is and what is not acceptable.

“We are not second guessing every decision,” the OT director stated at a press briefing on Thursday in Grand Cayman.

He added that the UK was not in control of everything that the local government did but they had agreed a framework within which the finances would be controlled.

The Cayman Islands government was still free, he said, to make decisions within the boundaries and had retained local autonomy. Hayes indicated that the FFR was not an austerity measure but an agreement about sound fiscal management and sensible financial decisions that do not cause more austerity.

Hayes took over as director of the overseas territories at the Foreign and Commonwealth Office (FCO) in October, replacing the former director, Colin Roberts. He is a career diplomat who has served in the Foreign Office for several years and his most recent posting was as the High Commissioner to Sri Lanka and the Maldives.

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