STATEMENT BY PREMIER AND MINISTER OF FINANCE
HONOURABLE ANDREW A. FAHIE
PREMIER’S UPDATE ON TRIP TO THE UNITED KINGDOM
26TH NOVEMBER 2021
Good day and GOD’s blessings to everyone in the Virgin Islands, and to you the members of the media.
The purpose of this briefing this morning is to update you and the Virgin Islands public on the recent trip to the United Kingdom (UK) by a team from the Government, for the annual Overseas Territories (OT) Joint Ministerial Council (JMC), which was the first JMC in-person meeting since 2019 due to the COVID-19 pandemic.
As you know, your Government’s philosophy is one of accountability, transparency and good governance, and an integral part of this is keeping the people of the Virgin Islands informed of how their Government is working for them.
I must note that in spite of the absence from the Virgin Islands of several of our top level Government officials, I am very pleased to see that the work of Government continued with full pace, and that we made many important strides for the benefit of our people and our economy.
For instance, this week saw the approval of the Auguste George International airport on Anegada for night flights and the reopening of the Taddy Bay International Airport on Virgin Gorda – complete with a welcome centre for screening passengers for COVID-19 – after having been closed for 20 months due to the pandemic.
Achievements such as these – and there have been others that are complemented by developments such as the resumption of cruise arrivals – continue to put the Virgin Islands on the path to economic recovery and growth, and to create economic opportunities for our people across all the sectors.
The Virgin Islands is pushing forward.
Our financial services continue to remain steady. Entrepreneurship continues to climb and so much more. The ships are coming as taxis are initiating tours, our different ports of entry are welcoming more and more visitors.
Our economy continues to push into overdrive with tourism seeing a growth in visitor arrivals, and I can go on about how GOD continues to be grateful to us in the Virgin Islands.
Let us therefore continue working together – pushing forward together, as one, so that the Virgin Islands remains effective and continues to grow.
As you know last week I led a delegation to London for the annual OTs JMC in UK, as mentioned before, was the first JMC in-person meeting since 2019 due to the COVID-19 pandemic.
My trip was very successful, enabling a renewed conversation with the UK and Government Ministers, leaders of the other Overseas Territories as well as businesses and friends of the Virgin Islands in the UK.
At the National Service of Remembrance, I had the privilege of laying a wreath during the Cenotaph Ceremony on behalf of the Virgin Islands.
This year marked the first time that a serving Premier had the privilege of laying a wreath on behalf of the Territory.
In 2019, Ms. Tracy Bradshaw, Interim Director and BVI UK/EU Representative, laid the wreath on behalf of the Virgin Islands, which marked the first occasion that the Territory was able to lay a wreath in its own right.
It was a moving ceremony and I was pleased to play a part in honouring the memory of those brave men and women, including servicemen and women and civilians who lost their lives in the line of duty, who sacrificed their lives in the two world wars.
While laying the wreath with my colleagues from the United Kingdom Overseas Territory Association (UKOTA), I remembered and gave thanks to those noble Virgin Islanders who are military veterans and served in the armed forces with such courage.
I also reflected on the first black soldier to win a Victoria Cross was Virgin Islander Samuel Hodge in 1866. His Commanding Officer Colonel D’Arcy called him “the bravest soldier in the Regiment.”
I recalled that our own son of the soil Mr. James Rymer in 1919 received the Mercantile Marine Ribbon, Mercantile Marine Medal and British medal for his service to Britain as a seaman during World War I.
I also had the privilege of meeting with some of our brightest young people from the Virgin Islands (VI) studying or working in the UK.
Persons attended the meeting in-person and online at the BVI London House.
They are studying and working in various disciplines include marine engineering, manufacturing companies, fashion, law, accounting, data management and musicians, among others.
I was heartened by the talent and skills being fostered. I took the opportunity to remind them that they are the future of the Virgin Islands and I look forward to them returning home to help grow and strengthen the economy.
During this meeting we were treated to a Virgin Islands cuisine prepared by Nyammin, the cofounders are Virgin Islanders Alyssa and Chanelle Harrigan and Kevin Jones (who is also the head chef). It was indeed home away from home.
Ahead of the official start of JMC, I took part in very productive meetings with my Overseas Territories colleagues.
There was much to discuss:
- The last year tackling the COVID-19 pandemic has been unprecedented and it was interesting to hear how different territories had experienced it, we discussed what we had learnt and looked forward to how we now – hopefully - move past it.
- COP26 is obviously fresh in our minds and there was a lot of emphasis placed on the ecological impact of climate change we each face. The Minister for Natural Resources and Labour Honourable Vincent Wheatley is here and will provide you with an update on his trip to the COP26 in Glasgow, Scotland.
- And finally, we discussed our relationship with the UK, what that means for each of us and how we can work together constructively, address areas such as security and law enforcement and especially think about our roles in a Post-Brexit environment.
I am pleased that we are aligned on many of these topics and were able to go into meetings with UK officials for the JMC with a broadly shared perspective and common goals.
The Joint Ministerial Council meeting is an annual forum which allows for dialogue between the elected leaders and representatives of the Overseas Territories and those of the United Kingdom.
Ministers exchange views on political and constitutional matters of mutual interest and discuss priority areas for the year ahead as it relates to economic and social development as well as governance.
On the first day we were welcomed by the Foreign Secretary, The Right Honourable Elizabeth Truss; the new Minister for Overseas, The Rt. Honourable Amanda Milling, and other UK Ministers with whom the Territory Leaders discussed priority areas for engagement and cooperation. Over the two days of the JMC four key sessions were held on:
- The Environment
- Economic Resilience
- Security and Law Enforcement
- The UK and OT Relationship
One of the most significant issues for discussion was post-COP26 climate action.
We remphasised the importance of moving away from fossil fuels and speeding up the transition to low carbon economies powered by green energy by 2050.
This echoes our own targets, we have pledged to have 60 percent renewable energy in the Virgin Islands by 2030, and hope we can meet the same goal as the UK has set of net-zero by 2050.
In the meeting I raised the very important issue about funding for climate change mitigation and adaptation.
The loss of access to European Development Funds of an estimated 7 million euros has left a funding gap in the Virgin Islands.
While we acknowledge UK funding via Darwin Plus for nature-based climate solutions, as well as direct funding from the Foreign, Commonwealth and Development Office funding for renewable energy development, this is separate to the replacement funds we are seeking to make up for the shortfall left by Brexit to support sustainable development.
The Minister for Health and Social Development Honourable Carvin Malone presented on the Virgin Islands’ response to COVID-19.
Indeed, the economic impact of COVID-19 has affected every country, and the Virgin Islands is no different. Despite the negative impact of the COVID-19 pandemic, our economy has proven to be resilient and swift government action has led to economic recovery, underpinned by our successful COVID-19 response.
While I am upbeat about the Virgin Islands’ economic prospects going forward, there are also lessons to be learnt from the last year.
We recognise the need for a permanent unemployment scheme to provide a financial and social safety net in the event of a disaster or catastrophic event.
We would welcome the UK’s technical input on how to implement this for the Virgin Islands. We’re also looking at new opportunities to diversify the economy, including progressing on plans for a medicinal marijuana sector.
We all want the Virgin Islands to remain a safe place to work, live and visit.
However, as I made clear at the JMC, unfortunately the region is a transit point for illegal contraband as organised crime seeks to exploit the vulnerabilities of so much open maritime space.
Your Government continues to be supportive of the efforts of the Governor and Police Commissioner to strengthen the police force and improve security.
This year there have been a number of successes in foiling major drug runs as well as addressing compromised officers who have hurt the police’s integrity and hampered the force’s ability to fully function.
I reiterated our commitment to the National Security Council and pride in setting up the Joint Taskforce that was formed in the height of the COVID-19 pandemic to protect our sea borders. I believe that an integrated approach to national security is the best way to address the Virgin Islands security challenges.
Finally, we turned to the very pertinent issue of the future relationship between the UK and OTs. I am clear that a new White Paper on the Overseas Territories is needed to modernise our partnership.
In terms of the UK-Virgin Islands relationship, I held bilateral meetings with Minister Milling and FCDO officials. These engagements were positive and will help to get the relationship back to a modern partnership.
I believe we can work together constructively to strengthen self-governance in a manner that supports our aspirations for greater self-determination.
I am pleased to report that coming out of our JMC meetings, the UK and BVI have agreed to move forward with discussions on advancing medical marijuana. In fact, follow-up meetings have already begun. I look forward to updating you in due course on the progress.
Both the local Government and UK have improvements to make within our respective areas of constitutional responsibility.
I want there to be no doubt that your Government is committed to good governance. We are, and will continue to, take steps to strengthen our institutions.
One of the things we recognise as OTs, is there is need to be sensitive to the relatively small societies and our unique identities that make us who we are.
Such things as belongership that enable us to keep our diasporas connected to the Territory should not be abolished or taken out of the hands of the local Government. Nor should any immigration or electoral changes be externally imposed that suddenly change the political landscape and upset the social balance of our societies.
The culmination of discussions was an awareness of shared challenges and greater commitment to addressing them together.
At the end of the JMC, we were delighted to be joined by The Duke of Cambridge for the closing reception.
The Duke met a group of inspiring young people and climate advocates from the OTS who are working to protect the environment and tackle environmental issues in their territories.
I was proud that Ms. Sheoma Richards, who recently graduated from Newcastle University in Geographic Information Science represented the Virgin Islands and spoke eloquently on her passion for the subject. She was inspired to gain knowledge on the matter after her experience of Hurricanes Irma and Maria and desire to prevent future natural disasters affecting the Islands.
The future of our youth and the future of our islands, seemed to be a fitting way, to conclude our visit.
I took the opportunity on November 19 to pay a courtesy visit to the Chairman Seamus Quilty of Hertfordshire County Council, Vice-Chairman Annie Brewster and officials from the Council. This year marks 10 years since the Virgin Islands and Hertfordshire County Council signed a Memorandum of Understanding to partner and share intelligence. This visit hosted by the Chairman commemorated our 10-year relationship.
Over the years Hertfordshire County Council has been a good friend to the Virgin Islands, hosting the BVI Olympic delegation 2012 for the games in London and then also supporting the delegation for the Commonwealth Games. Since then, the relationship has developed to include exchanges on education, the environment and economic development.
We value the friendship extended to us by Hertfordshire County Council, and I am pleased that after a few years of absence, we are able to meet again.
Once again, over the last decade our relationship has blossomed from one rooted in sport to extend to education, the environment and economic development and there is still more that we can learn from each other.
I wish to thank the Virgin Island’s delegation comprised of Minister for Health and Social Development, Honourable Carvin Malone; Permanent Secretary Premier's Office, Dr. Carolyn O'Neal-Morton; Acting Financial Secretary, Mr. Jeremiah Frett; Director International Affairs Secretariat, Ms. Najan Christopher, Director of Communications, Dr. Arliene T. Penn, Special Envoy of the Premier, Mr. Benito Wheatley; Acting Director and UK/EU Representative BVI London Office, Ms. Tracy Bradshaw; and Deputy Director BVI London Office, Ms. Siobhan Flax for their support.
I also thank the staff at the BVI London Office for their professionalism and excellent support.
The trip would not be a success without GOD’s help and the team’s commitment to the continued development of the Virgin Islands.
I thank you.