Front Page







World Summary

On Air


Talking Point


Low Graphics


Site Map

Wednesday, February 4, 1998 Published at 08:04 GMT


The Empire is no more, but it's not all over yet

The British Empire is now in its twilight years, with the sun finally dipping below the horizon.

But for the handful of tiny colonies scattered around the world which make up the remnant of the Empire, relations with the former colonial masters in London is still a moot point.

The eruption of Montserrat's Soufriere volcano last year which made two-thirds of the island uninhabitable brought the issue bubbling to the top of the political agenda, which may well have come as a surprise to ministers.

[ image: Foreign Secretary Robin Cook announced the review after Montserrat's volcano erupted]
Foreign Secretary Robin Cook announced the review after Montserrat's volcano erupted
After all, the most controversial end-of-empire matter - the handover of Hong Kong to China - was just ceasing to be an issue with the British governor leaving Hong Kong for the last time in 1997 on board the Royal Yacht Britannia .

The meeting of the Dependent Territories Association in London is to hear how Robin Cook, the Foreign Secretary, is planning to handle them from now on.

Name change

There are just 13 territories left: Anguilla, Bermuda, British Antarctic Territory, British Indian Ocean Territory, the British Virgin Islands, the Cayman Islands, the Falklands, Gibraltar, Montserrat, Pitcairn Islands, St Helena and Ascension and Tristan da Cunha, South Georgia and the South Sandwich Islands, and the Turks and Caicos Islands.

The main change which Mr Cook is expected to announce is a change in name: from British Dependent Territories to British Overseas Territories.

[ image: Gibraltar's chief minister Peter Caruana:
Gibraltar's chief minister Peter Caruana: "superficial tinkering"
But one of the key issues is a belief that without a more substantial change in policy, a mere change in name is meaningless.

None of the territories is asking for independence from Britain. In fact many would like to see their rights to British citizenship reinstated.

This was withdrawn in 1981 because of the fear of mass migration from Hong Kong. But as the total population of the Dependent Territories is only 186,000 there are calls they should be entitled to British passports once again.

It is not known what else Mr Cook might be planning, although it has been reported that there have been disagreements in the government over the issue of citizenship.

'Change underlying relationship'

Peter Caruana, Gibraltar's chief minister, said he thought changing the name of the territories without changing their underlying relationship with Britain was "superficial tinkering".

He said: "Even if all [the] Dependent Territory citizens were to come and live in the UK, it wouldn't be a massive trauma for this country. But of course, that's absurd. The vast majority of those Dependent Territory citizens are very content to be living in their dependent Territory and certainly wouldn't wish to come."


Back to top | BBC News Home | BBC Homepage


[an error occurred while processing this directive] [an error occurred while processing this directive]
  Relevant Stories

04 Feb 98 | UK
Cook's dozen - the 13 far-flung parts of the world that make up the 'empire'.

  Internet Links

Foreign and Commonwealth Office

The BBC is not responsible for the content of external internet sites.