78TH SESSION OF THE UNITED NATIONS GENERAL ASSEMBLY
3RD OCTOBER 2023
‘QUESTION OF THE BRITISH VIRGIN ISLANDS’
PREMIER DR. HON. NATALIO D. WHEATLEY
STATEMENT ON THE SITUATION OF THE BRITISH VIRGIN ISLANDS
Madam Chair, please permit me at the outset to sincerely thank you for the opportunity to address this committee as Member States consider the Question of the British Virgin Islands ahead of voting on the draft resolutions concerning the situations of the Non-Self-Governing Territories.
Excellencies, a General Election was held in the British Virgin Islands on 24th April 2023 in which the people of the Territory peacefully went to the polls and cast their ballots for their candidates of choice.
Following the results of the General Election, my colleagues and I formed the current Government in which I have the honour to serve as Premier.
We do not take this responsibility lightly and have pledged to govern in the best interest of the people of the British Virgin Islands.
In early July, I had the opportunity to meet the then newly appointed United Kingdom (UK) Minister for the Overseas Territories Hon. David Rutley MP in the margins of CARICOM's 45th Regular Meeting of the Conference of the Heads of Government in Port of Spain.
Our discussion was very constructive. I was very encouraged by Minister Rutley’s keen interest in how the relationship between the British Virgin Islands and UK could be improved.
In the months that have elapsed since that initial meeting, I have observed a welcome shift in the UK’s engagement with the British Virgin Islands and the tone of communications.
I must also acknowledge the constructive approach taken by UK Ambassador James Kariuki who I have met on a number of occasions since last year.
To be clear, I remain firmly opposed to the UK Order in Council in reserve that can remove democratic governance in the British Virgin Islands. The Order is not necessary and I believe it should be lifted immediately.
Nonetheless, it is worth noting that the UK has indicated that it foresees the Order being removed by May 2024.
The tone set by Minister Rutley is a positive development and my Administration will continue to constructively engage the UK with a view to resolving the issue.
On the ground, we have been following through on our commitment to the people of the British Virgin Islands to build a model democracy.
The elected arms of government are working diligently in their respective areas of constitutional responsibility to improve and strengthen the systems and institutions of government. The Governor and his team are doing the same where he has constitutional responsibility.
The technical assistance provided by the UK Government thus far in select areas has been helpful.
A collaborative UK approach, combined with ongoing consultation with the Territory Government, is the best way to address capacity constraints and other challenges of small government administration.
Looking ahead, next month I look forward to attending the upcoming Joint Ministerial Council in London between the UK and Overseas Territories where I will further discuss with Minister Rutley the British Virgin Islands relationship with the UK.
Finally Madam Chair, Excellencies, the British Virgin Islands journey on the path of self-determination continues.
The greater autonomy of the Territory through constitutional advances has come in stages, driven by the growth and development of the society and the aspirations of our people.
The British Virgin Islands will soon arrive at another historical juncture in which further constitutional advances must be considered. A constitutional review is currently under way and will conclude in the very near future.
Once completed, the people of the British Virgin Islands, the Territory Government and the UK Government will have to prepare to engage on the next constitutional steps in the self-determination process.
The key issue will be the devolution of additional powers to the elected arms of Government and whether a change of political status will be sought.
This preparation on the ground can be supported by the UN that has a responsibility to assist the British Virgin Islands and the other Non-Self-Governing Territories in helping to raise the awareness of their people on the UN sanctioned options to achieve a full measure of self-government, including integration, free association and independence.
I want to restate once again, that the British Virgin Islands would be most grateful for the support of the relevant UN agencies and departments to assist us in our efforts to raise the awareness of the people of the islands on the process of self-determination and the options available to the Non-Self-Governing Territories.
I also reiterate the British Virgin Islands’ request for a C-24 visiting mission. We have made this request every year since 2019 and it has also featured in consecutive resolutions adopted by the UN. Between 2019 and 2022 we have seen no movement in this direction.
I am well aware that the current Chair of the C-24 is working extremely hard on this and has been an exceptional Chair. She requires the robust support of the Members of the Special Committee on Decolonisation, as well as this committee, to make the visit a reality within the next five months.
The full range of requests by the British Virgin Islands are captured in the draft resolution. I encourage this committee’s passage of the resolution and also the General Assembly thereafter. But it will mean very little to the people on the ground if these requests are not acted upon.
Madam Chair, Excellencies, as I close, I would like to express the British Virgin Islands’ gratitude to the UN for its technical assistance to the Territory to support our sustainable development. I was immensely appreciative of the participation of ten UN agencies at the BVI-UN Sustainable Development Forum in June, led by Resident Coordinator Mr. Didier Trebucq. We have also been very well supported by ECLAC.
Finally, I wish to thank CARICOM, OECS and the Caribbean Territories who have stood by the British Virgin Islands for the past 17 months, including most recently supporting our successful call at the SIDS preparatory meetings this summer for Associate Members of the UN regional commissions to receive international support for sustainable development and building resilience to external shocks based on our vulnerability. We are very grateful for your ongoing support.
Thank you for your attention.