Statement By Premier Smith - UK Initiation Of Brexit Negotiations With European Union

STATEMENT BY PREMIER DR. THE HONOURABLE D. ORLANDO SMITH, OBE
ON UK INITIATION OF BREXIT NEGOTIATIONS WITH EUROPEAN UNION
MARCH 29, 2017

Ladies and gentleman, as you may be aware, United Kingdom (UK) Prime Minister Theresa May earlier today initiated formal negotiations on Britain’s exit from the EU in an official letter triggering Article 50 of the European Union (EU) Treaty.

This begins the two-year process of Britain and the 27 other EU member states and EU institutions negotiating the terms upon which Britain will leave the EU and its future relationship with the bloc. Not only will this affect Britain, but also the British Virgin Islands (BVI) and other Overseas Territories (OTs) who currently enjoy a beneficial relationship with the EU under the Overseas Association Decision 2013 (OAD).

The BVI maintains good cooperation with the EU on European Development Fund (EDF) programming to strengthen our private sector and encourage innovation across the economy.

We also work closely with the EU on sustainable development with respect to climate change, marine biodiversity and sustainable energy.

Our facilities at HLSCC have received invaluable funding support from the EU, including the construction of the Eileen Parsons Auditorium, Library and Culinary Arts Centre. Similarly EU funding has supported the construction of the Sage Mountain Visitors Centre.

Additionally, while the BVI and EU have challenges on various financial services matters, our policy dialogue on tax and transparency issues is robust.

My Government has remained engaged with the UK Government and other stakeholders on the implications of Brexit on the BVI. As the President of the UKOTA Political Council in 2016, I led efforts to secure Brexit negotiation talks for the OTs.

I subsequently attended the first UK-OT Joint Ministerial Council Meeting on European Negotiations in February this year. At that meeting we discussed international trade, EU funding, freedom of movement and financial services.

I made clear that BVI wants to preserve as much of the benefits of its current EU relationship as possible in terms of policy dialogue, tariff and quota free trade, support for sustainable development and freedom of movement.

I also reiterated my call for a new economic partnership between the UK and OTs after Brexit where we use our respective strengths and advantages to access markets in China, India and across the Commonwealth to drive our international trade. The BVI can be a strategic partner with the UK in helping to facilitate UK’s global investments.

As I mentioned in my previous update, my Government has established a Brexit Task Force that will examine in detail the risks and opportunities posed by Brexit to the BVI. We need greater clarity on the full extent of the impact of Brexit on financial services, tourism, the yachting industry, travel and migration, among others.

We also need further detail on the opportunities presented by Brexit to boost our economy through trade in services and to drive economic diversification in support of industries such as fisheries.

And, we also need to know our options for policy engagement with the EU after Brexit, since the EU remains a major player in setting international regulations in financial services.

The Brexit Task Force will set all of this out in a White Paper ahead of the second UK-OT Joint Ministerial Council on European Negotiations, which I will attend in June.

I am pleased to announce that the Brexit Task Force will report directly to me and will be comprised of our key Governmental technical experts who handle EU matters and includes:

Permanent Secretary in the Premier’s Office Mr. Brodrick Penn, who will serve as Chairman
Deputy Secretary in the Premier’s Office, Mrs. Elvia Smith-Maduro
Deputy Secretary in the Ministry of Natural Resources and Labour, Mr. Joseph Smith-Abbott
Acting Deputy Secretary in the Ministry of Communications and Works, Mr. Andrew St. Hilaire
Senior Policy Analyst in the Premier’s Office, Ms. Lizette George
Director of BVI London Office and EU Representative, Mr. Benito Wheatley
Deputy Director of the BVI London Office, Dr. Sandra Besson
Officer in the EU SME Project Management Unit, Ms. Diane Parsons
Director of the Financial Services Implementation Unit, Mr. Kedrick Malone
Assistant Secretary in the International Affairs Secretariat Ms. Najan Christopher
Mr. Steve Johnson, Consultant

While the Brexit Task Force prepares the White Paper on the impact of Brexit on the BVI, my Government will continue to engage the relevant EU stakeholders on Brexit. The task force will also engage private sector industry and public stakeholders.

In the near-term, the UK Government and OTs will engage in a series of technical roundtables on international trade, EU funding, freedom of movement, future EU relationship and financial services. The outcomes of these roundtables will support the UK’s Brexit negotiations position.

The BVI will be fully involved to ensure our voice is heard and interests considered.

At the same time, we are not naïve to the fact that Brexit negotiations will be complex and that all of the UK family’s interests may not be met and that potentially the UK and EU may not be able to secure a deal as generally desired. This could see our relationship with the EU negatively affected.

Thus following the UK-OT Joint Ministerial Council on European Negotiations where I expressed that the BVI wishes to preserve as many of the benefits of its EU relationship as possible, we have sought to find other avenues to engage with the EU.

As the benefits of our existing relationship with the EU under the Overseas Association Decision will be impacted due to Brexit, we must explore alternative options. CARIFORUM is the logical alternative.

To this end, I instructed BVI EU Representative Mr. Benito Wheatley to begin exploring the possibility of deepening our participation in CARIFORUM, which is the Caribbean forum of the African, Caribbean and Pacific Group of Countries, also called the ACP for short.

Earlier this month, he met the ACP Secretary General His Excellency Patrick Ignatius Gomes and CARIFORUM Ambassadors in Brussels to convey on my behalf the BVI’s wish to deepen our participation in CARIFORUM. I am pleased by the warm reception he received, and I also welcome the CARIFORUM Ambassadors’ interest in cooperation with BVI on engagement with the EU on international tax cooperation.

CARIFORUM members enjoy a relationship with the EU similar to our own at present under an economic partnership agreement (EPA) that provides for favourable terms of trade, development cooperation and policy engagement.

We are currently Observers to CARIFORUM, but this status does not provide for the BVI’s participation in their EU arrangements. A more meaningful status would be needed for this to be possible such as Associate Membership, which would have to be agreed with CARIFORUM.

Inside the EU, I am encouraged by the positive tone of European Commissioner for International Cooperation and Development, Neven Mimica’s response to BVI at a meeting in Aruba last month on our interest in engagement on the EU’s future relationship with the ACP.

I want to the reassure the public my Government is being proactive on all fronts in protecting and advancing the BVI’s interests in this historic process during which Britain will exit the EU.

I will report on our progress ahead of my Brexit negotiation meetings in June and update as developments arise.

Thank you.