British Overseas Territories

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British Overseas Territories
Anthem: "God Save the King"
Location of the United Kingdom and the British Overseas Territories
Location of the United Kingdom and the British Overseas Territories
Sovereign stateUnited Kingdom
Largest territoryBritish Antarctic Territory
Official languagesEnglish
Demonym(s)
  • British
  • Briton
  • multiple local demonyms
GovernmentDevolved administrations under a constitutional monarchy
• Monarch
Charles III
Rishi Sunak
Lord Cameron of Chipping Norton
David Rutley
Area
• Total
18,015[a] km2 (6,956 sq mi)
Population
• 2019 estimate
272,256
Date formatdd/mm/yyyy

The British Overseas Territories (BOTs) are the 14 territories with a constitutional and historical link with the United Kingdom that, while not forming part of the United Kingdom itself, are part of its sovereign territory.[1][2][3] The permanently inhabited territories are delegated varying degrees of internal self-governance, with the United Kingdom retaining responsibility for defence, foreign relations and internal security, and ultimate responsibility for good governance.[4][5] All of the territories are inhabited by civilians, except three that are chiefly or only inhabited by military or scientific personnel. All fourteen have the British monarch as head of state.[6] These UK government responsibilities are assigned to various departments of the Foreign, Commonwealth and Development Office and are subject to change.

Population[edit]

Most of the territories retain permanent civilian populations, with the exceptions of the British Antarctic Territory, the South Georgia and the South Sandwich Islands (which host only officials and research station staff) and the British Indian Ocean Territory (used as a military base). Permanent residency for the approximately 7,000 civilians living in the Sovereign Base Areas of Akrotiri and Dhekelia is limited to citizens of the Republic of Cyprus.[citation needed]

Collectively, the territories encompass a population of about 250,000 people[7] and a land area of about 480,000 sq nmi (1,600,000 km2).[8] The vast majority of this land area constitutes the almost uninhabited British Antarctic Territory (the land area of all the territories excepting the Antarctic territory is only 18,015 km2 [6,956 sq mi]), while the two largest territories by population, the Cayman Islands and Bermuda, account for about half of the total BOT population. The Cayman Islands alone comprise 28% of the entire BOT population.[9] At the other end of the scale, three territories have no civilian inhabitants – the Antarctic Territory (currently consisting of five research stations),[10] the British Indian Ocean Territory (whose inhabitants, the Chagossians were forcibly moved to Mauritius and the United Kingdom between 1968 and 1973),[11] and South Georgia (which actually did have a full-time population of two between 1992 and 2006).[12] Pitcairn Islands, settled by the survivors of the mutiny on the Bounty, is the smallest settled territory, with 49 inhabitants (all of whom live on the titular island),[13] while the smallest by land area is Gibraltar, which lies on the southern tip of the Iberian Peninsula.[14] The United Kingdom participates in the Antarctic Treaty System[15] and, as part of a mutual agreement, the British Antarctic Territory is recognised by four of the six other sovereign nations making claims to Antarctic territory.

Current overseas territories[edit]

The 14 British Overseas Territories are:[16]

Flag Arms Name Location Motto Area Population Capital GDP
(nominal)
GDP per
capita
(nominal)
Notes
Anguilla Caribbean, North Atlantic Ocean "Unity, Strength and Endurance" 91 km2 (35.1 sq mi)[17] 14,869 (2019 estimate)[18] The Valley $299 million $20,307
Bermuda North Atlantic Ocean between the Azores, the Caribbean, Cape Sable Island in Canada, and Cape Hatteras (its nearest neighbour) in the United States "Quo fata ferunt" (Latin; "Whither the Fates carry [us]") 54 km2 (20.8 sq mi)[19] 62,506 (2019 estimate)[20] Hamilton $6.464 billion $102,987
British Antarctic Territory Antarctica "Research and discovery" 1,709,400 km2 (660,000 sq mi)[17] 0
50 non-permanent in winter, over 400 in summer (research personnel)[21]
Rothera (main base) Subject to the Antarctic Treaty System.
British Indian Ocean Territory Indian Ocean "In tutela nostra Limuria" (Latin; "Limuria is in our charge") 60 km2 (23 sq mi)[22] 0
3,000 non-permanent (UK and US military and staff personnel; estimate)[23]
Naval Support Facility Diego Garcia (base) Claimed by Mauritius. Includes seven atolls of the Chagos Archipelago and the island of Diego Garcia
British Virgin Islands Caribbean, North Atlantic Ocean "Vigilate" (Latin; "Be watchful") 153 km2 (59 sq mi)[24] 31,758 (2018 census)[25] Road Town $1.05 billion $48,511 Tortola, Virgin Gorda, Anegada, Jost Van Dyke
Cayman Islands Caribbean "He hath founded it upon the seas" 264 km2 (101.9 sq mi)[26] 78,554 (2022 report)[26] George Town $4.298 billion $85,474 Grand Cayman, Cayman Brac and Little Cayman
Falkland Islands South Atlantic Ocean "Desire the right" 12,173 km2 (4,700 sq mi)[19] 3,377 (2019 estimate)[27]
1,350 non-permanent (UK military personnel; 2012 estimate)
Stanley $164.5 million $70,800 Claimed by Argentina. In 1982 the Falklands War was fought over control of the islands. Includes East Falkland, West Falkland and over 700 other islands.
Gibraltar Iberian Peninsula, Continental Europe "Nulli expugnabilis hosti" (Latin; "No enemy shall expel us") 6.5 km2 (2.5 sq mi)[28] 33,701 (2019 estimate)[29]
1,250 non-permanent (UK military personnel; 2012 estimate)
Gibraltar $3.08 billion $92,843 Claimed by Spain.
Montserrat Caribbean, North Atlantic Ocean "A people of excellence, moulded by nature, nurtured by God" 101 km2 (39 sq mi)[30] 5,215 (2019 census)[31] Plymouth (de jure, but abandoned due to Soufrière Hills volcanic eruption. De facto capital is Brades) $61 million $12,181
Pitcairn Islands Pacific Ocean 47 km2 (18 sq mi)[32] 50 (2018 estimate)[33]
6 non-permanent (2014 estimate)[34]
Adamstown $144,715 $2,894 Pitcairn, Henderson, Ducie and Oeno
Saint Helena, Ascension and Tristan da Cunha,
including:
South Atlantic Ocean 420 km2 (162 sq mi) 5,633 (total; 2016 census) Jamestown $55.7 million $12,230
Saint Helena "Loyal and Unshakeable" (Saint Helena) 4,349 (Saint Helena; 2019 census)[35]
Ascension Island 880 (Ascension; estimate)[36]
1,000 non-permanent (Ascension; UK military personnel; estimate)[36]
Tristan da Cunha "Our faith is our strength" (Tristan da Cunha) 300 (Tristan da Cunha; estimate)[36]
9 non-permanent (Tristan da Cunha; weather personnel)
South Georgia and the South Sandwich Islands South Atlantic Ocean "Leo terram propriam protegat" (Latin; "Let the lion protect his own land") 3,903 km2 (1,507 sq mi)[37] 0
99 non-permanent (officials and research personnel)[38]
King Edward Point Claimed by Argentina. The islands were occupied by Argentina during the Falklands War in 1982. Consists of South Georgia and a chain of smaller islands known as the South Sandwich Islands.


Akrotiri and Dhekelia Cyprus, Mediterranean Sea 255 km2 (98 sq mi)[39] 7,700 (Cypriots; estimate)
8,000 non-permanent (UK military personnel and their families; estimate)
Episkopi Cantonment Full sovereignty (beyond that of any other military base) disputed by Cyprus.
Turks and Caicos Islands Lucayan Archipelago, North Atlantic Ocean 948 km2 (366 sq mi)[40] 38,191 (2019 estimate)[41] Cockburn Town $1.077 billion £28,589 Includes Grand Turk Island
Overall c. 1,727,415 km2
(18,105 km2 excl. BAT)
c. 272,256[7] c. $16.55 billion

Map[edit]

  British Overseas Territories
  United Kingdom

History[edit]

St. George's town (originally named New London), in the Islands of Bermuda, or "The Somers Isles". The colony was founded by the wrecking of the flagship of the Virginia Company in 1609. The company's charter was extended to include Bermuda in 1612, and it has remained an English (since 1707, British) colony ever since. Since the rebellion of Virginia, it has been the oldest-remaining British colony, and the town of St. George's is the oldest continuously inhabited British settlement in the New World.[42]

Early colonies, in the sense of English subjects residing in lands hitherto outside the control of the English government, were generally known as plantations.

The first, unofficial, colony was Newfoundland Colony, where English fishermen routinely set up seasonal camps in the 16th century.[43] It is now a province of Canada known as Newfoundland and Labrador. It retains strong cultural ties with Britain.

After failed attempts, including the Roanoke Colony, the permanent English colonisation of North America began officially in 1607 with the settlement of Jamestown, the first successful permanent colony in Virginia (a term that was then applied generally to North America). Its offshoot, Bermuda, was settled inadvertently after the wrecking of the Virginia Company's flagship there in 1609, with the company's charter extended to officially include the archipelago in 1612. St. George's town, founded in Bermuda in that year, remains the oldest continuously inhabited British settlement in the New World (with some historians stating that – its formation predating the 1619 conversion of James Fort into Jamestown – St. George's was actually the first successful town the English established in the New World). Bermuda and Bermudians have played important, sometimes pivotal, but generally underestimated or unacknowledged roles in the shaping of the English and British transatlantic empires. These include maritime commerce, settlement of the continent and of the West Indies, and the projection of naval power via the colony's privateers, among other areas.[44][45]

The growth of the British Empire in the 19th century, to its territorial peak in the 1920s, saw Britain acquire nearly one quarter of the world's land mass, including territories with large indigenous populations in Asia and Africa. From the middle of the 19th century to the early 20th century, the larger settler colonies – in Canada, Australia, New Zealand and South Africa – first became self-governing colonies and then achieved independence in all matters except foreign policy, defence and trade. Separate self-governing colonies federated to become Canada (in 1867), Australia (in 1901), South Africa (in 1910) and Rhodesia (in 1965). These and other large self-governing colonies had become known as dominions by the 1920s. The dominions achieved almost full independence with the Statute of Westminster (1931).

Five of the overseas territories are in the Caribbean, as shown on the map.

Through a process of decolonisation following the Second World War, most of the British colonies in Africa, Asia and the Caribbean chose independence. Some colonies became Commonwealth realms, retaining the monarch as their own head of state.[46] Most former colonies and protectorates became member states of the Commonwealth of Nations, a non-political, voluntary association of equal members, comprising a population of around 2.2 billion people.[47]

After the independence of Southern Rhodesia (now Zimbabwe) in Africa in 1980 and British Honduras (now Belize) in Central America in 1981, the last major colony that remained was Hong Kong, with a population of over 5 million.[48] With 1997 approaching, the United Kingdom and China negotiated the Sino-British Joint Declaration, which led to the whole of Hong Kong becoming a special administrative region of China in 1997, subject to various conditions intended to guarantee the preservation of Hong Kong's capitalist economy and its way of life under British rule for at least 50 years after the handover. George Town, Cayman Islands has consequently become the largest city among the dependent territories, partly because of the constant and healthy flow of immigration to the city and the territory as a whole, which saw its population jump 26% from 2010 to 2021, the fastest population growth of any of the territories.[9]

Prior to 1 January 1983, the territories were officially referred to as the Crown Colonies. at which point they were renamed as British Dependent Territories. In 2002, the British Parliament passed the British Overseas Territories Act 2002 which introduced the current name of British Overseas Territories. This reclassified the UK's dependent territories as overseas territories and, with the exception of those people solely connected with the Sovereign Base Areas on Cyprus, restored full British citizenship to their inhabitants.[49]

During the European Union (EU) membership of the United Kingdom, the main body of EU law did not apply and, although certain slices of EU law were applied to the overseas territories as part of the EU's Association of Overseas Countries and Territories (OCT Association), they were not commonly enforceable in local courts. The OCT Association also provided overseas territories with structural funding for regeneration projects. Gibraltar was the only overseas territory that was part of the EU, although it was not part of the European Customs Union, the European Tax Policy, the European Statistics Zone or the Common Agriculture Policy. Gibraltar was not a member of the EU in its own right, having had its representation in the European Parliament through its members from South West England. Overseas citizens held concurrent European Union citizenship, having given them rights of free movement across all EU member states.

The Sovereign Base Areas in Cyprus were never part of the EU, but they are the only British Overseas Territory to use the Euro as official currency, having previously had the Cypriot pound as their currency until 1 January 2008.

On 15 May 2023, the sixteen heraldic shields of the British Overseas Territories and the three coat of arms of the Crown Dependencies were "immortalised". in two new stained-glass windows, unveiled in the Speaker's House at the New Palace of Westminster. House of Commons Speaker, Sir Lindsay Hoyle said "The two windows represent part of our United Kingdom family".[50]

Government[edit]

Head of state[edit]

The head of state in the overseas territories is the British monarch, currently King Charles III. The monarch appoints a representative in each territory to exercise the executive power of the monarch. In territories with a permanent population, a governor is appointed by the monarch on the advice of the British government. Currently (2019) all but two governors are either career diplomats or have worked in other civil service departments. The remaining two governors are former members of the British armed forces. In territories without a permanent population, a commissioner is usually appointed to represent the monarch. Exceptionally, in the overseas territories of Saint Helena, Ascension, Tristan da Cunha and the Pitcairn Islands, an administrator is appointed to be the governor's representative. In the territory of Saint Helena, Ascension and Tristan da Cunha, there is an administrator in each of the two distant parts of the territory, namely Ascension Island and Tristan da Cunha. The administrator of the Pitcairn Islands resides on Pitcairn, with the governor based in New Zealand.

Following the Lords' decision in Ex parte Quark, 2005, it is held that the King in exercising his authority over British Overseas Territories does not act on the advice of the government of the UK, but in his role as king of each territory, with the exception of fulfilling the UK's international responsibilities for its territories. The reserve powers of the Crown for each territory are no longer considered to be exercisable on the advice of the UK government. To comply with the court's decision, the territorial governors now act on the advice of each territory's executive and the UK government can no longer disallow legislation passed by territorial legislatures.[51]

The role of the governor is to act as the de facto head of state, and they are usually responsible for appointing the head of government, and senior political positions in the territory. The governor is also responsible for liaising with the UK government, and carrying out any ceremonial duties. A commissioner has the same powers as a governor, but also acts as the head of government.[52]

Local government[edit]

Although the British Government is the national government, much of governance within the territories has been delegated to local government, with all of those that have permanent populations having some degree of representative government (which was not the case for British Hong Kong) which have been delegated responsibility for local legislation, irrevocably guaranteed the same rights and representation they would have if born in England, representation in the national Parliament of the United Kingdom has yet to be extended to any overseas territory. The structure of the territorial government appears to be closely correlated to the size and political development of the territory.[52]

Territories Government
There is no native or permanent population; therefore there is no elected government. The commissioner, supported by an administrator, runs the affairs of the territory.
There is no elected government, as there is no native settled population. The Chagossians – who were forcibly evicted from the territory in 1971 – won a High Court judgement allowing them to return, but this was then overridden by an Order in Council preventing them from returning. The final appeal to the House of Lords (regarding the lawfulness of the Order in Council) was decided in the government's favour, exhausting the islanders' legal options in the United Kingdom at present.
There is no elected government. The Commander British Forces Cyprus acts as the territory's administrator, with a chief officer responsible for the day-to-day running of the civil government. As far as possible, laws are converged with those of the Republic of Cyprus.[53][54][55]
There are an elected mayor and Island Council, who have the power to propose and administer local legislation. However, their decisions are subject to approval by the governor, who retains near-unlimited powers of plenary legislation on behalf of the United Kingdom government.
The government consists of an elected Legislative Assembly, with the chief executive and the director of corporate resources as ex officio members.[56]
The government consists of an elected Legislative Council. The governor is the head of government and leads the Executive Council, consisting of appointed members made up from the Legislative Council and two ex-officio members. Governance on Ascension Island and Tristan da Cunha is led by administrators who are advised by elected Island Councils.[57]
These territories have a House of Assembly, Legislative Assembly (Montserrat), with political parties. The Executive Council is usually called a cabinet and is led by a premier, who is the leader of the majority party in parliament. The governor exercises less power over local affairs and deals mostly with foreign affairs and economic issues, while the elected government controls most "domestic" concerns.[citation needed]
The Cayman Islands has a unicameral legislature with multiple political parties. On 11 November 2020, constitutional reforms were approved which would reintroduce the islands' Governmental body as the Parliament of the Cayman Islands. Other changes include giving the territory more autonomy and reducing the power of the Governor.[58]
Under the Gibraltar Constitution Order 2006 which was approved in Gibraltar by a referendum, Gibraltar now has a Parliament. The Government of Gibraltar, headed by the chief minister, is elected. Defence, external affairs and internal security vest in the governor.[59]
Bermuda, settled in 1609 and self-governed since 1620, is the oldest of the Overseas Territories. The bicameral Parliament consists of a Senate and a House of Assembly, and most executive powers have been delegated to the head of government, known as the premier.[60]
The Turks and Caicos Islands adopted a new constitution effective 9 August 2006; their head of government now also has the title Premier, their legislature is called the House of Assembly, and their autonomy has been greatly increased.[61]

Legal system[edit]

Each overseas territory has its own legal system independent of the United Kingdom. The legal system is generally based on English common law, with some distinctions for local circumstances. Each territory has its own attorney general and court system. For the smaller territories, the United Kingdom may appoint a UK-based lawyer or judge to work on legal cases. This is particularly important for cases involving serious crimes and where it is impossible to find a jury who will not know the defendant in a small population island.[62]

The 2004 Pitcairn Islands sexual assault trial is an example of how the United Kingdom may choose to provide the legal framework for particular cases where the territory cannot do so alone.

The highest court for all the British overseas territories is the Judicial Committee of the Privy Council in London.

Police and enforcement[edit]

The British overseas territories generally look after their own policing matters and have their own police forces. In smaller territories, the senior officer(s) may be recruited or seconded from a UK police force, and specialist staff and equipment may be sent to assist the local force.

Some territories may have other forces beyond the main territorial police, for instance an airport police, such as Airport Security Police (Bermuda), or a defence police force, such as the Gibraltar Defence Police. In addition, most territories have customs, immigration, border and coastguard agencies.

Territories with military bases or responsibilities may also have "Overseas Service Police", members of the British or Commonwealth Armed Forces.

Joint Ministerial Council[edit]

British Overseas Territories Joint Ministerial Council
Type
Type
Dialogue forum
Seats28–30
Elections
All members elected either as MPs in the UK cabinet[clarification needed] or as heads of Government or Ministers in Overseas Territories.
Meeting place
Westminster, London
Website

A Joint Ministerial Council of UK ministers, and the leaders of the overseas territories has been held annually since 2012 to provide representation between UK government departments and overseas territory governments.[63][64][65]

Disputed sovereignty[edit]

The British Indian Ocean Territory (BIOT) is the subject of a territorial dispute with Mauritius, the government of which claims that the separation of the Chagos Archipelago from the rest of British Mauritius in 1965, three years before Mauritius was granted independence from the United Kingdom, was not lawful. The long-running dispute was referred in 2017 to the International Court of Justice, which issued an advisory opinion on 25 February 2019 which supported the position of the government of Mauritius.

The British Antarctic Territory has some overlap with territorial claims by both Argentina and Chile. However, territorial claims on the continent may not currently be advanced, under the holding measures of the Antarctic Treaty System.[66]

Gibraltar was captured from Spain in 1704 by a force led by Admiral Sir George Rooke representing the Grand Alliance on behalf of the Archduke Charles, pretender to the Spanish Throne. After the battle, almost all of the inhabitants decided to leave. Spanish attempts to regain the territory by numerous attacks and sieges failed, and it was eventually ceded to the Kingdom of Great Britain by Spain in the 1713 Treaty of Utrecht as part of the settlement of the War of the Spanish Succession. In that treaty, Spain ceded to Great Britain "the full and entire propriety of the town and castle of Gibraltar, together with the port, fortifications, and forts thereunto belonging ... in perpetuity, without any exception or impediment whatsoever." Since the 1960s, with Generalisimo Francisco Franco in power in Spain, a new impetus, to date unsuccessful, was given to their sovereignty claim, ignoring the terms of when it was conceded.

United Nations list of non-self-governing territories[edit]

Of the eleven territories with a permanent population, all except the Sovereign Base Areas of Akrotiri and Dhekelia in Cyprus continue to be listed by the UN Special Committee on Decolonization as non-self-governing territories since they were listed as dependent territories by the UK when it joined the UN in 1947. This means that the UK remains the official administrative power of these territories, and under Article 73 is therefore required "to develop self-government, to take due account of the political aspirations of the peoples, and to assist them in the progressive development of their free political institutions."[67]

Relations with the United Kingdom[edit]

Leaders of the Overseas Territories with the Prime Minister, David Cameron, in 2012
Tristan da Cunha on 6 February 2013, as seen from space. The population was temporarily evacuated to the UK in 1961 because of an eruption. Postal code TDCU 1ZZ
Coastline at Little Bay, the site of the new capital of Montserrat replacing Plymouth. The project is funded by the[68] UK's Foreign, Commonwealth and Development Office (previously the Department for International Development).
British overseas territories at the same geographic scale as the UK

Historically the Secretary of State for the Colonies and the Colonial Office were responsible for overseeing all British Colonies, but today the Foreign, Commonwealth and Development Office (FCDO) has the responsibility of looking after the interests of all overseas territories except the Sovereign Base Areas of Akrotiri and Dhekelia, which comes under the jurisdiction of the Ministry of Defence.[69][70] Within the FCDO, the general responsibility for the territories is handled by the Overseas Territories Directorate.[71]

In 2012, the FCO published The Overseas Territories: security, success and sustainability which set out Britain's policy for the Overseas Territories, covering six main areas:[72]

  • Defence, security and safety of the territories and their people
  • Successful and resilient economies
  • Cherishing the environment
  • Making government work better
  • Vibrant and flourishing communities
  • Productive links with the wider world

Britain and the Overseas Territories do not have diplomatic representations, although the governments of the overseas territories with indigenous populations all retain a representative office in London. The United Kingdom Overseas Territories Association (UKOTA) also represents the interests of the territories in London. The governments in both London and territories occasionally meet to mitigate or resolve disagreements over the process of governance in the territories and levels of autonomy.[73]

Britain provides financial assistance to the overseas territories via the FCDO (previously the Department for International Development). As of 2019, only Montserrat, Saint Helena, Pitcairn and Tristan da Cunha receive budgetary aid (i.e. financial contribution to recurrent funding).[74] Several specialist funds are made available by the UK, including:

  • The Good Government Fund which provides assistance on government administration;
  • The Economic Diversification Programme Budget which aim to diversify and enhance the economic bases of the territories.

The territories have no official representation in the UK Parliament, but have informal representation through the all-party parliamentary group,[75] and can petition the UK government through the Directgov e-Petitions website.[76]

Two national parties, UK Independence Party and the Liberal Democrats, have endorsed calls for direct representation of overseas territories in the UK Parliament, as well as backbench members of the Conservative Party and Labour Party.[77][78] The Chief Minister has argued that all British citizens in overseas territories should have the right to vote in UK parliamentary elections.

On 29th January 2024, the Chief Minister of Gibraltar, Fabian Picardo, addressed the House of Commons Committee on territorial constitution, looking at the relationship between the UK Parliament and the territories. He said that the UK Government's new "Votes for Life" policy mean all Gibraltarians who have previously lived in the UK, for example as students, can now register to vote in its general elections - regardless of how long ago they lived there. However, Fabian Picardo highlighted that, overall, there is no formal mechanism to ensure Gibraltar's interests are represented under the constituency system - just the voluntary interest of individual MPs, such as those in the All-Party Parliamentary Group on Gibraltar. The Chief Minister acknowledged the difficulty of finding a system to accommodate Westminster representation and OT's self-governance - but said that the "Pandora's Box" of devolution had opened a window to how this could be addressed.

Foreign affairs[edit]

Map showing the portion of Antarctica claimed by the UK as British Antarctic Territory
Gibraltar was the only overseas territory included in the European Union.

Foreign affairs of the overseas territories are handled by the FCDO in London. Some territories maintain diplomatic officers in nearby countries for trade and immigration purposes. Several of the territories in the Americas maintain membership within the Organisation of Eastern Caribbean States, the Caribbean Community, the Caribbean Development Bank, Caribbean Disaster Emergency Management Agency and the Association of Caribbean States. The territories are members of the Commonwealth of Nations through the United Kingdom. The inhabited territories compete in their own right at the Commonwealth Games, and three of the territories (Bermuda, the Cayman Islands and the British Virgin Islands) sent teams to the 2016 Summer Olympics.

Although the Crown Dependencies of Jersey, Guernsey and the Isle of Man are also under the sovereignty of the British monarch, they are in a different constitutional relationship with the United Kingdom.[79][80] The British Overseas Territories and Crown Dependencies are themselves distinct from the Commonwealth realms, a group of 15 independent countries (including the United Kingdom) sharing Charles III as monarch and head of state, and from the Commonwealth of Nations, a voluntary association of 56 countries mostly with historic links to the British Empire (which also includes all Commonwealth realms). Notably, while not independent Commonwealth realms, the territories are separately represented at the Commonwealth Games on the same basis as independent nation members, as are the three Crown Dependencies of Jersey, Guernsey and Isle of Man.

Full British citizenship[81] has been granted to most 'belongers' of overseas territories (mainly since the British Overseas Territories Act 2002).

Most countries do not recognise the sovereignty claims of any other country, including Britain's, to Antarctica and its off-shore islands. Five nations contest, with counter-claims, the UK's sovereignty in the following overseas territories:

Citizenship[edit]

The people of the British Overseas Territories are British Nationals. Most of the overseas territories distinguish between those British nationals who have rights reserved under the local government for those with a qualifying connection to the territory. In Bermuda, by example, this is called Bermudian status, and can be inherited or obtained subject to conditions laid down by the local government (non-British nationals must necessarily obtain British nationality in order to obtain Bermudian status). Although the expression "belonger status" is not used in Bermuda, it is used elsewhere in Wikipedia to refer to all such statuses of various of the British Overseas Territories collectively. This status is neither a nationality nor a citizenship, although it confers rights under local legislation.[citation needed]

Prior to 1968, the British government made no citizenship (or connected rights) distinction between its nationals in the United Kingdom and those in the British colonies (as the British Overseas Territories were then termed). Indeed, the people of Bermuda had been explicitly guaranteed by Royal Charters for the Virginia Company in 1607 (extended to Bermuda in 1612) and the Somers Isles Company (in 1615) that they and their descendants would have exactly the same rights as they would if they had they been born in England. Despite this, British Colonials without a qualifying connection to the United Kingdom were stripped of the rights of abode and free entry in 1968, and, in 1983, the British government replaced Citizen of the United Kingdom and Colonies with British Citizenship (with rights of abode and free entry to the United Kingdom) for those with a qualifying connection to the United Kingdom or British Dependent Territories Citizenship for those with a connection only to a colony, at the same time re-designated a British Dependent Territory. This category of citizenship was distinguished from British Citizenship by what it did not include — the rights of abode and free entry to the United Kingdom — and was not specific to any colony but to all collectively, except for Gibraltar and the Falklands Islands, the people of which retained British Citizenship.[citation needed]

It was stated by some Conservative Party backbench MPs[who?] that the secret intent of the Conservative government was to restore a single citizenship, with full rights across the United Kingdom and the British Dependent Territories, once Hong Kong and its British Dependent Territories Citizens had been returned to the People's Republic of China in 1997. By that time, the Labour Party was in government with Tony Blair as Prime Minister. Labour had decried discrimination against the people of the British Dependent Territories (other than those of Gibraltar and the Falklands), which was understood universally as intended to raise a colour bar and had done so given that most white colonials were not affected by it and had made restoration of a single citizenship part of its election manifesto.[citation needed]

In 2002, when the British Dependent Territories became the British Overseas Territories, the default citizenship was renamed British Overseas Territories Citizenship (except still for Gibraltar and the Falkland Islands, for which British Citizenship remained the default), the immigration bars against its holders were lowered, and its holders were also entitled to obtain British Citizenship by obtaining a second British Passport (something that had previously been illegal) with the citizenship so indicated. As British Overseas Territories Citizens must provide their British Passport with the citizenship shown as British Overseas Territories Citizen in order to prove their entitlement to obtain a passport with the citizenship shown as British Citizen, most now have two passports, although the local governments of the territories do not distinguish an individual's local status based on either form of citizenship, and the passport with the citizenship shown as British Citizen consequently shows the holder to be entitled to all of the same right as does the passport with the citizenship shown as British Overseas Territories Citizen, and is often required to access services in the United Kingdom, and is accepted by the immigration authorities of more foreign countries, many of which have barriers against holders of British Overseas Territories Citizen passport holders that do not apply to British Citizen passport holders (the exception being the United States in relation to Bermuda, with which it has retained close links since Bermuda was founded as an extension of Virginia).

In regard to movement within British sovereign territory, only British citizenship grants the right of abode in a specific country or territory, namely, the United Kingdom proper (which includes its three Crown Dependencies). Individual overseas territories have legislative independence over immigration, and consequently, BOTC status, as noted above, does not automatically grant the right of abode in any of the territories, as it depends on the territory's immigration laws. A territory may issue belonger status to allow a person to reside in the territory that they have close links with. The governor or immigration department of a territory may also grant the territorial status to a resident who does not hold it as a birthright.

Thousands of Gibraltarians dress in their national colours of red and white during the 2013 Gibraltar National Day celebrations. Gibraltarians were the only group of overseas territories residents who could apply for full British citizenship without restrictions before 2002.

From 1949 to 1983, the nationality status of Citizenship of UK and Colonies (CUKC) was shared by residents of the UK proper and residents of overseas territories, although most residents of overseas territories lost their automatic right to live in the UK after the ratification of Commonwealth Immigrants Act 1968 that year unless they were born in the UK proper or had a parent or a grandparent born in the UK.[82] In 1983, CUKC status of residents of overseas territories without the right of abode in the UK was replaced by British Dependent Territories citizenship (BDTC) in the newly minted British Nationality Act 1981, a status that does not come with it the right of abode in the UK or any overseas territory. For these residents, registration as full British citizens then required physical residence in the UK proper. There were only two exceptions: Falkland Islanders, who were automatically granted British citizenship, and with the Falkland Islands treated as a part of the UK proper through the enactment of British Nationality (Falkland Islands) Act 1983 due to the Falklands War with Argentina; and Gibraltarians, who were given the special entitlement to be registered as British citizens upon request without further conditions because of its individual membership in the European Economic Area and the European Economic Community.[83]

Five years after the handover of Hong Kong to China in 1997, the British government amended the 1981 Act to give British citizenship without restrictions to all BDTCs (the status was also renamed BOTC at the same time) except for those solely connected with Akrotiri and Dhekelia (whose residents already held Cypriot citizenship).[84] This restored the right of abode in the UK to residents of overseas territories after a 34-year hiatus from 1968[why?] to 2002.

Military[edit]

RAF Mount Pleasant, Falkland Islands
Colour party of the Royal Bermuda Regiment at Queen's Birthday Parade in 2017

Defence of the overseas territories is the responsibility of the United Kingdom. Many of the overseas territories are used as military bases by the United Kingdom- and its allies:

Languages[edit]

Cliffs at Gough Island and Inaccessible Island

Most of the languages other than English spoken in the territories contain a large degree of English, either as a root language, or in code-switching, e.g. Yanito. They include:

Forms of English:

Currencies[edit]

The 14 British overseas territories use a varied assortment of currencies, including the Euro, British pound, United States dollar, New Zealand dollar, or their own currencies, which may be pegged to one of these.

Location Native currency Issuing authority
  • Akrotiri and Dhekelia

Euro

European Central Bank

  • British Antarctic Territory
  • Tristan da Cunha[b]
  • South Georgia and the South Sandwich Islands

Pound sterling

Bank of England

  • Falkland Islands

Falkland Islands pound (parity with pound sterling)
Pound sterling (widely circulated and accepted universally)[citation needed]
Euro (accepted unofficially in most establishments)[citation needed]
United States dollar (accepted unofficially in most establishments)[citation needed]

Government of the Falkland Islands

  • Gibraltar

Gibraltar pound (parity with pound sterling)
Pound sterling (widely circulated and accepted universally)[citation needed]
Euro (accepted unofficially in most establishments)[citation needed]

Government of Gibraltar

  • Saint Helena and Ascension Island[b]

Saint Helena pound (parity with pound sterling)
United States dollar (accepted unofficially on Ascension Island)[citation needed]

Government of Saint Helena

  • British Virgin Islands
  • Turks and Caicos Islands

United States dollar
Bahamian dollar (accepted unofficially in the Turks and Caicos Islands)[citation needed]

US Federal Reserve

  • Anguilla
  • Montserrat

Eastern Caribbean dollar (pegged to US dollar at 2.7ECD=1USD)

Eastern Caribbean Central Bank

  • Bermuda

Bermudian dollar (parity with US dollar)
United States dollar (widely circulated and accepted universally)[89]

Bermuda Monetary Authority

  • Cayman Islands

Cayman Islands dollar (pegged to US dollar at 1KYD=1.2USD)

Cayman Islands Monetary Authority

  • Pitcairn Islands

New Zealand dollar
United States dollar (accepted unofficially)[90]
Pound sterling is also accepted.[91]
Pitcairn Islands dollar (parity with New Zealand dollar; commemorative issue only)

Reserve Bank of New Zealand

  • British Indian Ocean Territory

United States dollar (de facto)[92][93]
Pound sterling (de jure)[94][95]

US Federal Reserve
Bank of England

Symbols and insignia[edit]

Overseas Territories flags in Parliament Square in 2013

Each overseas territory has been granted its own flag and coat of arms by the British monarch. Traditionally, the flags follow the Blue Ensign design, with the Union Flag in the canton, and the territory's coat of arms in the fly. Exceptions to this are Bermuda which uses a Red Ensign; British Antarctic Territory which uses a White Ensign, but without the overall cross of St. George; British Indian Ocean Territory which uses a Blue Ensign with wavy lines to symbolise the sea; and Gibraltar which uses a banner of its coat of arms (the flag of the city of Gibraltar).

Akrotiri and Dhekelia and Saint Helena, Ascension and Tristan da Cunha are the only British Overseas Territories without their own flag, although Saint Helena, Ascension Island and Tristan da Cunha have their own individual flags. Only the Union Flag, which is the national flag in all the territories, is used in these territories.

Sports[edit]

Bermuda, the British Virgin Islands and the Cayman Islands are the only British Overseas Territories with recognised National Olympic Committees (NOCs); the British Olympic Association is recognised as the appropriate NOC for athletes from the other territories, and thus athletes who hold a British passport are eligible to represent Great Britain at the Olympic Games.[96]

Shara Proctor from Anguilla, Delano Williams from the Turks and Caicos Islands, Jenaya Wade-Fray from Bermuda[97] and Georgina Cassar from Gibraltar strove to represent Team GB at the London 2012 Olympics. Proctor, Wade-Fray and Cassar qualified for Team GB, with Williams missing the cut, however wishing to represent the UK in 2016.[98][99]

The Gibraltar national football team was accepted into UEFA in 2013 in time for the 2016 European Championships. It has been accepted by FIFA and went into the 2018 FIFA World Cup qualifying, where they achieved 0 points.

Gibraltar has hosted and competed in the Island Games, most recently in 2023.

Biodiversity[edit]

Historic Town of St George and Related Fortifications, BermudaGough and Inaccessible IslandsHenderson IslandGorham's Cave
The World Heritage Sites of the UK (Overseas Territories): The natural sites of Gough and Inaccessible Islands and Henderson Island are marked green, the cultural sites of the Historic Town of St George and Related Fortifications, Kourion, and Gorham's Cave are marked red.

The British Overseas Territories have more biodiversity than the entire UK mainland.[100] There are at least 180 endemic plant species in the overseas territories as opposed to only 12 on the UK mainland. Responsibility for protection of biodiversity and meeting obligations under international environmental conventions is shared between the UK Government and the local governments of the territories.[101]

Two areas, Henderson Island in the Pitcairn Islands as well as the islands of Gough and Inaccessible of Tristan da Cunha are listed as UNESCO World Heritage Sites, and two other territories, the Turks and Caicos Islands and Saint Helena, are on the United Kingdom's tentative list for future UNESCO World Heritage Sites.[102][103] Gibraltar's Gorham's Cave Complex is also found on the UK's tentative UNESCO World Heritage Site list.[104]

The three regions of biodiversity hotspots situated in the British Overseas Territories are the Caribbean Islands, the Mediterranean Basin and the Oceania ecozone in the Pacific.[101]

The UK created the largest continuous marine protected areas in the world, the Chagos Marine Protected Area, and announced in 2015 funding to establish a new, larger, reserve around the Pitcairn Islands.[105][106][107]

In January 2016, the UK government announced the intention to create a marine protected area around Ascension Island. The protected area would be 234,291 square kilometres (90,460 sq mi), half of which would be closed to fishing.[108]

See also[edit]

Notes[edit]

  1. ^ Excluding British Antarctic Territory.
  2. ^ a b Part of the British Overseas Territory of Saint Helena, Ascension and Tristan da Cunha.

References[edit]

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Further reading[edit]

  • Charles Cawley. Colonies in Conflict: The History of the British Overseas Territories (2015) 444pp.
  • Harry Ritchie, The Last Pink Bits: Travels Through the Remnants of the British Empire (London: Hodder & Stoughton, 1997).
  • Simon Winchester, Outposts: Journeys to the Surviving Relics of the British Empire (London & New York, 1985).
  • George Drower, Britain's Dependent Territories (Dartmouth, 1992).
  • George Drower, Overseas Territories Handbook (London: TSO, 1998).
  • Ian Hendry and Susan Dickson, "British Overseas Territories Law" (London: Hart Publishing, 2011)
  • Ben Fogle, The Teatime Islands: Adventures in Britain's Faraway Outposts (London: Michael Joseph, 2003).
  • Bonham C. Richardson (16 January 1992). The Caribbean in the Wider World, 1492–1992. Cambridge University Press. ISBN 9780521359771. Retrieved 8 December 2010.

External links[edit]