The Commonwealth of Nations, British Overseas Territories and Crown Dependencies
With less than 100 days to go before the EU referendum on Thursday 23rd June, those who are a part of the StrongerIn campaign are attempting to convince the electorate to remain within the EU. They always give the argument of sticking with the status-quo and by remaining in the EU it’s a case of going with the flow and causing the least hassle. It appears to be the most prudent option to take. Not just the supposition of saving jobs and sating the economic fears of some within the business community; this comes with a feeling of apathetic resignation that the UK is already too far ensconced within the system of the EU, with the threads of the EU’s web woven tightly into every strand of UK legislation and everyday life. For many that moment for the UK to have chosen to leave the EU has long since passed. There is an element of truth to this, in that it would have been far better if the British government and the delegation that spoke on the UK’s behest in 1991 at Maastricht had chosen not to be a part of the new EU. It would have made the matter a lot less complicated than now, but it is only now that the UK has given the electorate the chance to choose.
Whether the UK decides to leave or remain in the EU, for many this boils down to the notion that the amount of time, money and effort required for the UK to extract itself from the EU far outweighs the overall cost of doing nothing and remaining in the EU to the point where the UK loses its sovereignty and all forms of independence, being reduced to a state within a one nation federal Europe. For those people this future for the UK is the most preferable one.
Of course, by making this claim, those who are campaigning for the UK to remain in the EU (unless they are deaf and blind they are also compliant to the UK becoming a state within a one nation federal Europe) hold the belief that when the UK does lose all sovereignty that will be it. They assume that it shall be a smooth and relatively painless transition, bereft of any complications or any grave implications. In their views, all loss of sovereignty shall be irrelevant. Unfortunately, those with this view grasp tightly to this blinkered notion being an absolute, but they are very much mistaken. If the UK, or rather if Great Britain were to lose her independence, self-determination and sovereignty there would be a high price to pay for many and it would come on a global scale, affecting far more people globally, greater than the citizens of the current EU.
By size in area and population the greatest area affected by the UK’s loss of sovereignty shall be the Commonwealth of Nations, what was once the British Commonwealth and the British Empire before that, consisting of 53 member states covering an area of 11,566,870 square miles* and containing a population (2013 estimation) of 2.328 billion*. It should also be noted that the Commonwealth had a 2014 estimate GDP of $14.623 trillion*. I am certain there are many all too willing to poke fun at and mock the Commonwealth. I assume in their eyes it is an archaic, redundant monolith drenched in pomp and circumstance having Queen Elizabeth II as the Head of the Commonwealth. For many people they only become aware of this organisation once every four years when the Commonwealth Games are held. For the remainder of the time the Commonwealth must be redundant so, why the concern with the UK’s sovereignty?
Great Britain is the catalyst, the heart which draws and holds the 53 members together, collectively. The Commonwealth does much good, uniting all member states in a common bond. The aim of the Commonwealth of Nations were enshrined in the Singapore Declaration of 1971, where the Commonwealth as one declared that it was committed to promoting world peace, representative democracy and individual liberty, while pursuing equality and opposing racism, while also fighting poverty, ignorance, and disease and promoting free trade throughout the Commonwealth. Later additions to the declaration have also included opposing gender discrimination and promoting environmental sustainability. All of which I am sure you will agree are just, noble and honourable intentions for any organisation. It should also be noted that unlike the EU, the Commonwealth takes into account representative democracy and Great Britain has no desire, nor any future plans to require any member state to rescind its nation status in order to be a member of the Commonwealth and to benefit from the practices of free trade within the said Commonwealth. Indeed, the Commonwealth of Nations is referred to by members fondly as the Commonwealth Family. Not a contrived artificial union of convenience or necessity but a collective of family members.
From the arts and culture, to the sciences and sport the fabric of the Commonwealth flows deep through the infrastructures of all these member states. Of course many of the more deprived and poorer member states within the Commonwealth benefit from millions of pounds worth of aid gifted by the UK but there are many other ways in which all members benefit on a symbiotic level including joint associations, charities and organisations. One notable example which many have benefitted from (whether they are aware or not) is the Commonwealth War Graves Commission (CWGC). The CWGC founded in 1917 is responsible for maintaining the graves of 1.7 million service personnel who paid the ultimate sacrifice for the Commonwealth from the Great War onwards. Great Britain provides over 75 per cent of funding for the CWGC but the remainder of the funds are supplied by five other Commonwealth members Canada, Australia, New Zealand, India and South Africa. In 2014 to commemorate the centenary of the beginning of the First World War if you travelled to France or Belgium to visit and pay homage at one of those vast war cemeteries, with their large gardens, mausoleums and memorials I’m sure you were amazed at their splendour. Even if you only watched them from the comfort of your sofa, seeing them on commemorative shows on your TV, I’m sure you were equally impressed at the care and quality given to these cemeteries. With British and Commonwealth service personnel having laid down their lives fighting to free these nations of German tyranny I expect you’re assuming that these cemeteries were paid for and cared by those grateful nations? You’d be incorrect. A grateful France and Belgium did purchase the land occupied by the cemeteries and they did gift the land to the CWGC in perpetuity. After that, all funding and maintenance since has lain with the CWGC, paid for by the Commonwealth. On soil which is under the jurisdiction of the EU, the funding and maintenance of the graves of those who died in two world wars (ensuring the freedom of European citizens and their nations) is carried out by the Commonwealth of Nations. This example explains all. The Commonwealth Family sacrificed their own for freedom and paid that cost in blood and money and has since continued to pay for the care of their dead. The Family has and continues to share the burden of the cost while the EU provides nought.
If the UK were to be reduced to merely becoming a state within a one nation federal Europe imagine the complication and horrors that Great Britain and the Commonwealth of Nations would face untangling their woven infrastructures and breaking up the Family. What chance that the Family would even hold together not having Britain at the helm? If the Commonwealth were to fall what would be the cost to all those member states around the world? With the loss of aid and so many other inputs, what affect would this have on over 2 billion people? Is that a price worth paying to remain in the EU or an act of selfishness? If the UK remains in the EU and slides into becoming a member state how much misery and suffering shall be inflicted across the globe?
From the threat faced by the Commonwealth Family from the EU to the threat faced by the British Overseas Territories. Additionally, to the 53 members of the Commonwealth the 14 British Overseas Territories (BOT) need to be considered. The British Overseas Territories once known as British Crown Colonies cover a land area of about 667,018 square miles* and containing a population of approximately 250,000*. Though spread all across the globe, many of these territories share a common theme of physical isolation due to locality and fragility in terms of being home to some of the most diverse and rarest ecosystems on the planet. Great Britain has done its utmost to preserve these territories while simultaneously giving protection to the peoples who call these territories home.
The most notable and famous of these British Overseas Territories in the UK are undoubtedly the Falkland Islands. I have written at length in Britannia and Her Hearts of Oak on the defence of the Falklands by the Royal Navy since the war in 1982. If the UK were to remain in the EU and suffer the consequences of having the British armed forces absorbed and ensnared in a quasi EU military force, what shall become of the Falklands and the 13 other British Overseas Territories left defenceless and bereft of the protection from the British armed forces?
“Naturally this would be a devastating and disturbing outcome for the Falkland Islanders themselves but it would also be a terrible blow to those brave servicemen who were present in 1982. Shall all those servicemen lost in the conflict have fought, bled and paid the ultimate sacrifice in vain? Shall all those who were severely injured, maimed and scarred both physically and mentally for life, be told that all their pain and suffering endured ever since was for nought?”
I doubt very much that any good shall arise from this scenario if Great Britain does not have full control and sovereignty over her armed forces to come to the aid of these territories, especially the Falkland Islands. In effect the upcoming EU referendum is a proxy vote on behalf of the Falkland Islanders on deciding whether in future they shall always remain as subjects of the British Overseas Territories or conversely if they are to be cast aside to face an uncertain future.
Closer to home the Crown dependencies face an uncertain future with the threat from the EU of the UK being absorbed in to a single federal nation. Great Britain has three Crown dependencies, the Isle of Man and the Bailiwicks of Jersey and Guernsey. These three Crown dependencies are all self-governing islands, independent of the UK and therefore the EU but they are all possessions of the Crown, coming under the protectorate of the Crown and the UK with Queen Elizabeth II as the Head of State. This means that the majority of these citizens will be ineligible to vote in the upcoming EU referendum as those who have resided there for more than 15 years concurrently shall not be considered EU citizens, even though they shall be some of the most greatly affected.
Tellingly, these three Crown dependencies are desperately seeking membership to the Commonwealth of Nations as their fears grow of a protectorate UK being fully absorbed into a one nation federal Europe. If that is the case and the UK is reduced to a state member, what does the future hold for these three Crown dependencies? Again, like the Commonwealth Family the untangling of these infrastructures would hold prohibitive costs and unpalatable complications that nobody can truly foretell. The Three Crown dependencies face an even bleaker future than compared to that of the Commonwealth Family. Between them, self-governing for millennia but under the protectorate of the Crown, these three islands would have very few options available to them. None of these options could be considered favourable. One option is to become a part of the Commonwealth Family but what happens as and when the Commonwealth falls when the UK is absorbed as a state within a federal EU nation? Another option is to seek complete independence by becoming sovereign states in their own right. Taking into account they would then have to cover all of their costs, their lack of size and the price of isolation, most would doubt the feasibility of it being possible. A third option would be for these three islands to be induced into becoming members of the EU. It is very doubtful they would be allowed full membership, more likely they would be persuaded into signing the EEA (European Economic Area) Treaty and being granted the equivalent of EFTA (European Free Trade Association) status so as to be in the single market but without representation. These three Crown dependencies each with their own unique quirks and identities would suffer devastating harm and lasting damage adopting a one size fits all EU legislation, changing their characters and national identities beyond recognition. Whichever way you look at it, the UK remaining in the EU would eventually provide a devastating and fatal blow to the freedom and self-determination of the Isle of Man, Jersey and Guernsey.
In the run up to this decisive EU referendum we hear the opinions of those who wish to leave or remain but very rarely will anyone openly admit to having a vested interest in the result of either outcome. It is almost impossible to be an impartial neutral as you will have opinions or a vested interest in the result. I can freely admit that I love the Isle of Man. Any minor changes or repercussions to its national identity or harm incurred to the IoM caused by the UK remaining in the EU and being reduced to a state within a one nation federal Europe, I would find utterly heartbreaking. The IoM embraces the embodiment of self responsibility and respects the freedom of choice of the individual. This fits in very well with the old British ethos, a throwback to the days of Empire where an individual was the sole custodian of their actions and deeds; therefore an individual reaps the rewards gained through endeavour but also pays the cost for mistakes and misfortunes and sometimes that cost in life can be to pay the ultimate price. For many in today’s world this kind of thinking is abhorrent and a total anathema to their way of life. Contrarily, for those with this throwback position on life this is the very definition of the “Nanny State” at work, removing responsibility for the individual from the self to the state.
The IoM caters very much to those who believe in responsibility from the self. The individuality of character held by the IoM has ensured since 1907 that the International Isle of Man Tourist Trophy Race, simply known as the Isle of Man TT has taken place. Run every June, this event takes place over a fortnight. The first week is Practice Week and sees motorcycles and riders, sidecars and crews set loose on public roads for practice sessions to set up, fine tune and fettle their machines. The second week is race week. Referred to as a race it is in fact ran as a time-trial. Man/Woman/Sidecar Crew and machine, released at 10 second intervals race the clock, competing for a set number of laps where each lap covers a distance of 37.73 miles. Held on closed public roads the course takes a route which traverses towns and villages which carry the obvious dangers of obstacles for motorcycles travelling in excess of 100mph. Then there is the Snaefell Mountain section of the course which carries the risks of travelling at similar speeds on mountainside roads.
All who compete are fully aware of the dangers and risks yet these riders and sidecar crews choose to pit themselves and their machinery against the clock, the public roads of the mountain course and the ever changing weather conditions of a course that is run over a distance of 37.73 miles. Over the many years of competition riders, sidecar crews, marshals and other race officials along with spectators have paid the ultimate price for being in the wrong place at the wrong time on the IoM TT course. And still there is no shortage of willing competitors, nor a lack of race officials and would-be replacements, while from every part of the world thousands of fans descend upon this small island. All accept the potential risks involved to enjoy the thrills of attending the IoM TT.
Just when you think an event like this can’t get much crazier you can throw “Mad Sunday” into the mix! On the Sunday sandwiched in between the practice and race weeks there is held an unofficial event where spectator fans will tour the 37.73 mile course which the Manx authorities permit. Only because the Isle of Man is a self-governing island; only because the IoM is under the protectorate of the Crown and the UK which permits the IoM to have the choice to decide to run the Isle of Man TT can the IoM close public roads and allow this event to take place.
If the UK were to remain in the EU being reduced to a state within a one nation federal Europe, the consequences for the Isle of Man whether directly or indirectly affected by the implementation of EU legislation could prove devastating. With the “Nanny State” mindset of the EU, the fear would be that the EU would use legislation to bring an end to an event and a tradition which has taken place for over a century, in the process destroying the entire ethos and identity of an island race. If this were to happen, I know many who would be left heartbroken.
Never mind untangling the Commonwealth of Nations from the UK or untangling the three Crown dependencies of the Isle of Man and the Bailiwicks of Jersey and Guernsey from the UK, how on earth do you ever manage to begin to untangle the Crown from the entire UK infrastructure? To separate the Crown from Westminster and Parliament, to separate the Crown from the law courts and all areas of legislation, to separate the Crown from the armed forces and emergency services, to separate the Crown from all areas of civic life. These costs would be exorbitant beyond anyone’s possible imagination. Even as the UK is being absorbed as a State into a one nation federal Europe, the UK would be financially ruined covering the cost, while the new EU federal nation would not contribute one penny, not even one cent to cover the cost. The overall financial cost of Brexit, of the UK extracting and disentangling itself from the EU at this moment in time must surely come at a lower price to the nation as compared to the financial cost of the eventual untangling of the Commonwealth, Crown and Crown dependencies. Yet still there will be those foolish enough, clambering to remain within the EU, wishing to keep the statue-quo, ever willing to allow the UK to be sucked into a one nation federal Europe, for many are too young and naïve to have ever known different. Great Britain used to be so much better than this and it could be again.
* Population, area and GDP figures obtained from Wikipedia.