Column: Bermuda’s Role In Brexit Negotiations

August 4, 2016

[Opinion column written by Gregory Francis]

As interested parties queue to gain access to the table – or at least the overflow CCTV room – in the upcoming Brexit negotiations, Bermuda seems to have lost pole position to the more agile Crown Dependencies.

On 30 July the UK Prime Minister said she appreciated the Crown Dependencies’ belief they would be “best served” by existing arrangements as she agreed they could contribute to Brexit talks “where appropriate”.

Jump for My Love

If Bermuda, as the most significant of the Overseas Territories [sorry, Gib], also has a view on what serves it best, then it will need to say so soon. It can do so without scuttling its relationship with the Foreign and Commonwealth Office, so long as it remembers that the FCO’s function will be to keep the OTs in line and prevent them from taking the precious time of the negotiators and the leadership team in the cabinet office.

Born to be Wild

Too bad. We all know that the squeaky wheels gets greased. In this most unusual circumstance, there may still be some constitutional niceties to be observed, but not if they come at the cost of Bermuda’s ability to shape its own future.

In this uncharted sea, rather, Bermuda’s government should feel emboldened to go outside of established channels and communicate its requirements directly to those taking decisions.

Why not maintain good relations with the FCO and Government House too – keep them informed, by all means! – but in this moment when decision-making is happening among only a very few people in Whitehall and Downing Street, Government House is pretty far down on the list of those who can affect outcomes here.

Sound of Silence

Last week this column outlined what might be at stake for Bermuda and what Bermuda might want to push for in the Brexit process. It was understandable if, at that point, there was no clear sense of what Bermuda wanted to do to preserve, improve, or otherwise adjust the current arrangement.

These things take time to consider, so it is right that the Dunkley Government should act in a measured, considered way. There remains time to get the plan right, and to consult Bermuda stakeholders as widely as required.

It’s Urgent

But that’s on substance. Until Bermuda is ready to articulate what it wants out of Brexit, it does not need to be paralysed in matters of process.

Rather, now is the right time to say what procedural options the island seeks [Direct dialogue with Brussels and the EU member states? A seat at the UK table when it believes its interests are being discussed? Some third-way, negotiated collectively with the other OTs and tending towards arrangements between the EU and Caribbean?].

The reason for urgency, in case the fast work of the Crown Dependencies was not enough to demonstrate it, is clear. What is now a fluid and accessible process within the UK apparatus will become more rigid, and less open to looks in from the OTs.

And even where Bermuda today does not know what outcome it seeks, it knows at least one thing to guide its actions: it seeks the best for its people. That, more than anything, informs what it must do next. In matters Brexit, as so often before, Bermuda must preserve the right to speak for herself.

- Gregory Francis, Managing Director of the UK-based Public Affairs company Access Partnership


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Comments (2)

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  1. Kathy says:

    Did you hear the man? It is a matter of URGENCY!!!

  2. Sidney says:

    The Crown Dependencies are more focused on Brexit because they have so much more to lose. Their access to the EU Single Market depends on the UK’s membership treaty with the EU, which will disappear if/when the UK leaves. Bermuda never had or wanted access to the EU Single Market, so Bermuda is barely affected by Brexit negotiations.

    There are a few hundred Bermudians living and/or working in Europe through their UK passports, but they are in the same position as the millions of Brits in Europe.