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British Overseas Territories

Britain's Overseas Territories retain their connection with the United Kingdom because it is the wish of their peoples that they do so. They have a substantial measure of responsibility for the conduct of their own affairs. Local self-government is generally provided by an executive council and elected legislature. Governors or commissioners are appointed by the Crown on the advice of the British Foreign Secretary and retain responsibility for external affairs, defense and, usually, internal security and public service.

The defence and security of the Territories remains the responsibility of the United Kingdom. Defence and security are key constitutional responsibilities of the Governor. The substantially populated Territories have their own police forces for the maintenance of security and public order. While these forces enjoy operational independence, constitutional responsibility sits with the Governor.

The majority of Overseas Territories are now broadly self-sufficient. However three Territories - St Helena, Montserrat and Pitcairn - face significant structural and natural barriers to growth. They are characterised by regional isolation and access constraints, small or declining population bases, limited natural resources and susceptibility to natural disasters.

Each British Overseas Territory is constitutionally separate and “distinct” from the United Kingdom. In terms of British statute law, “the United Kingdom” is defined in the Interpretation Act 1978 as Great Britain and Northern Ireland. This plainly excludes the British Overseas Territories. Consequently, as each British Overseas Territory is a constitutional unit separate from the others and from the United Kingdom, each Territory has a government separate from the Government of the United Kingdom. As each of the British Overseas Territories is nonetheless part of the dominions of Her Majesty The Queen, the government of each Territory is Her Majesty’s Government in right of the particular Territory.

The Crown is the Sovereign of both the United Kingdom and the British Overseas Territories. It follows that the United Kingdom and those Territories form part of one undivided realm. This renders the British Overseas Territories distinct from other States of which the Queen is monarch (such as Canada and Australia). This is the position for international law purposes, the Territories having no sovereignty of their own (explaining why, for example, the Territories are not separate members of the Commonwealth). Territories cannot be separate members of other international organisations except with the authority of the United Kingdom.

The 14 Overseas Territories (OTs) have a constitutional relationship with the UK, and their citizens have a right to British citizenship. The UK Government is committed under the United Nations Charter "to promote to the utmost. the well-being of the inhabitants of these territories". The Government's vision is to create flourishing and vibrant Territories, freer from financial dependence on Whitehall, proudly retaining their British identity and better able to generate improved opportunities for their people. The OTs are a Government-wide responsibility, although the Foreign and Commonwealth Office (FCO) has the overall policy lead within Whitehall.

It is a long-standing policy commitment of successive UK Governments that the reasonable assistance needs of the OTs are the first call on the international development budget. Three OTs, St Helena, Montserrat and Pitcairn, are dependent on aid as a result of extreme challenges including inaccessibility, undiversified economies and declining populations. DFID's programme support helps maintain physical access to these islands, strengthen human capacity to deliver public services effectively, including health and education provision, and move the OTs towards self-sufficiency where possible. Given the nature of the Government's responsibility towards the OTs, DFID may also be called upon to support the currently unaided OTs as a result of natural disaster or global events.

In British overseas territories, The Queen is represented by Governors, or in some cases by Commissioners, Administrators or Residents, who are responsible to the British Government for the government of the countries concerned. The United Kingdom is responsible for the security of the overseas territories and for their foreign affairs and defence-related matters. Most overseas territories have their own elected government. There are seven Australian external territories, two New Zealand dependent territories and two New Zealand associated states.

Overseas Territories are British for as long as they wish to remain British. The Overseas Territories are constitutionally not part of the United Kingdom. All of them have separate constitutions made by an Order in Council. All have Governors or Commissioners who are UK appointed Civil Servants. They represent both Her Majesty the Queen in the Territory; and represent the Territory's interests to HMG in London. The Overseas Territories Directorate in the FCO takes the overall lead on managing the UK's relationship with its Overseas Territories, but all Government Departments have a responsibility towards the Overseas Territories.

South Georgia and the South Sandwich Islands were the dependencies of the Falkland Islands, but were not British overseas territories between 3 October 1985 and 3 December 2001. Hong Kong, a former overseas territory held by Britain on a long lease, was handed back to China on 1 July 1997, in a ceremony attended by The Prince of Wales. St Christopher and Nevis was a British overseas territory until 18 September 1983, when it became an independent Commonwealth country.

Before 26 February 2002, the British overseas territories were known as the British dependent territories, and British overseas territories citizenship was known as British dependent territories citizenship. British overseas territories citizenship is a category of citizenship that was created by the British Nationality Act 1981, which came into force on 1 January 1983. It is for people connected with the British overseas territories. On 21 May 2002, British overseas territories citizens became British citizens automatically if they had British overseas territories citizenship by connection with a qualifying territory. A qualifying territory is any of the British overseas territories except for the Sovereign Base Areas of Akrotiri and Dhekelia.

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Page last modified: 12-07-2017 19:10:33 ZULU