Good day my fellow Virgin Islanders, I would like to take this opportunity to update you on Brexit on behalf of Your Government as we continue to keep you informed on the matters that affect you and these beautiful British Virgin Islands.
As you are aware, at 6:00 p.m. Atlantic Standard Time on 31st January, 2020, the United Kingdom (UK) will officially leave the European Union (EU).
What this means in real terms is that the UK will no longer fully participate in the economic, social, political and legal arrangements of the EU, which it has done for the past 47 years.
The UK Government will now be able to fully exercise its independence in making decisions for the UK across all critical areas of national life.
This is a most important development globally, but also has implications here at home.
By virtue of the UK’s membership in the EU, persons who hold UK passports, including BVIslanders, enjoy the benefit of visa-free travel to the European Schengen Area and the ability to work, study and do business in the EU without restriction.
However, these privileges are now up for negotiation as the UK and EU begin negotiations on their future relationship that will conclude by the end of the year.
It is important to point out here, that holders of British Overseas Territories passports fall under a different visa-free travel regime to the EU Schengen Area that is unaffected by Brexit.
The implications of Brexit on the BVI also extend to international relations and development cooperation.
Politically, the BVI has enjoyed Associate Status in the EU as one of the Overseas Countries and Territories (OCTs) directly associated with the bloc. Our Associate Status has entitled us to EU funding with which to tackle issues such as climate change, sustainable energy and marine biodiversity; and also recovery after Hurricanes Irma and Maria.
In earlier years, EU funds helped to build elements of the H. Lavity Stoutt Community College.
After today January 31st, 2020, we lose our Associate Status in the EU and will have no access to the next round of EU funding earmarked for the French, Dutch and Danish Territories we leave behind. This is very unfortunate since the BVI is eligible for little other development assistance.
Fortunately, there will be no immediate changes to travel, study, business, work and funding arrangements before the end of this year. An implementation period between the UK and EU from 1st February to 31st December will come into force on January 31st, 2020 during which time things remain the same while the two parties negotiate the terms on which a new relationship will work.
On this particular provision, I recently held discussions with the UK Minister for the Overseas Territories and other OT Leaders to get clarifications and assurances on the implementation period and upcoming UK consultations with the Overseas Territories on their priorities for negotiations with the EU.
It has been made clear to the UK that the BVI wishes to retain as many of the benefits and privileges that we currently enjoy with the EU, including visa free travel and tariff and quota free trade, among other things.
In terms of replacement EU funding, your Government has officially recommended to the UK that it create a Sustainable Development Fund for all Overseas Territories from which to fund climate change, biodiversity and sustainable energy projects. This is particularly important since the BVI is not eligible for funds elsewhere.
Your Government has also been clear with the UK that the BVI would like to explore opportunities for international trade presented by Brexit as the UK seeks out new trading partners.
To ensure the BVI’s voice is heard, I will travel to London in March to attend the upcoming UK-OT Joint Ministerial Council where I will reiterate our interests.
Ladies and gentleman, Your Government has also taken other steps to ensure the BVI maintains our relationship with the EU. They are as follows:
The BVI London Office will continue to serve as our EU Representation Office so that the BVI’s voice can be heard when needed in various EU institutions and among individual EU Member States.
Central Government will also remain fully engaged with the EU on critical issues such as the EU list of non-cooperative tax jurisdictions on which BVI remains on the grey list.
We will also continue membership in the Overseas Countries and Territories Association (OCTA) as an Associate Member to maintain a political presence in Brussels. It is more critical than ever that we work closely with our fellow French, Dutch and Danish Territories to lobby in the European Parliament and among other stakeholders where our interests are at stake.
Your Government has also recently engaged the EU on prospects for development cooperation as a Third Country Jurisdiction, particularly as partners of the EU Outermost Regions in the Caribbean that include Guadeloupe, Martinique, Sint Martin and French Guiana. We have a good track record of cooperation with these neighbours on sustainable development and will endeavour to continue partnering on projects.
Finally, we have officially requested Associate Membership in CARIFORUM, which is the Caribbean’s negotiating body on EU matters. I will be following up on this request in just a few weeks’ time when I meet my political colleagues in the region at the upcoming CARICOM Intersessional Meeting in Barbados.
Once CARIFORUM Associate Membership is approved, we will begin to engage the EU on various matters involving trade and development alongside our Caribbean neighbours. This will also entail our London Office attending the regular meeting of CARIFORUM Ambassadors in Brussels.
Ladies and gentleman, these are uncertain times and certainly uncharted waters for the UK and EU. As your Premier and Minister of Finance, I want to assure you that your Government will continue to be vigilant in looking out for the best interest of the BVI as we navigate our way through the great changes taking place in Europe and the world today.
I will keep you informed as we make further progress on our international agenda.
I wish you God’s blessing and may God bless these beautiful British Virgin Islands.