In the 2012 White Paper, the UK Government confirmed that “Each Territory has a unique community and it is for the Territory to shape the future of its own community.
The right to vote in Bermuda has evolved to our democracy of today, where Bermudian men and women cast their votes freely in elections for the candidate of their choice. There are still many Bermudians alive today who experienced firsthand being denied the right to vote based on property ownership or gender. And when those things were done away with, a system of undue paperwork and administration was used to frustrate those who would express themselves at the Polls.
Here we stand, 16 years after the first true election of universal adult suffrage, of single seat constituencies with one man/woman, one vote, each vote of equal value; forced to take a stand to defend the right of Bermudians to determine the direction of our own country.
The UK Government has two months to determine how or it if it will proceed with the Foreign Affairs Committee’s recommendations. The Motion tabled in the House today is necessary for three important reasons:
- To make Bermuda’s position clear on the recommendations. The Report comments on the adoption of public register of beneficial ownership for Bermuda and the issue of voting rights for British citizens resident in Bermuda. On beneficial ownership, our position is a bipartisan one, endorsed by successive Governments: we will adopt a global standard for a public register beneficial ownership when one is implemented
- To signal the political unanimity of Bermuda on the issues. It has often been said that while we may disagree internally, to the world we must present a united front. The Motion tabled today provides an opportunity for all elected Members of the House to speak with one voice in the debate and with their vote. This united front will convey to the UK Government that on these issues, Bermuda is of one accord
- To meet the growing threat the Report represents. Some have sought to downplay the Report as only a Committee report that should not be taken as the views or intentions of the UK Government. Ordinarily, this would be a valid argument and we might be persuaded that Brexit and other matters would occupy the attention of Ministers in Whitehall
This is not so. In a move that even the UK Government was not prepared for, a cross party amendment has been introduced into the House of Commons in London and is slated for the report stage under their procedure today. The amendment seeks to further force the issue regarding public registers of beneficial ownership and we understand that its support is considerable and growing. It seems that some members within the House of Commons are not waiting for the Government to take a position on the Report’s recommendations; they are moving with haste to force their implementation.
Since 1968, the relationship between Bermuda and the UK has matured. The term ‘self-governing’ has become our way of life as we elect our leaders, determine our own immigration policy, fund our government and services from our own taxation and revenue generation, and most importantly, make our own laws. Our Constitution and the body of laws that support it are homegrown. This principle is now at stake in this relationship and on this point of principle there can be no erosion of rights.
A mere seven (7) years after The White Paper’s indication that Overseas Territories are responsible for shaping the future of their own communities, the recent FAC Report casts aside the need for such cohesion and asserts not only a right to vote but also the ability to hold elected office for BOTC and UK citizens with virtually no additional qualifying criteria. This is a willfully ignorant suggestion that ignores decades of institutionalized privilege and one that would further divide this community along lines that we are determined to erase.
I look forward to leading the debate on this Motion and tracing for the people of Bermuda; reminding some and perhaps informing others, of the history of voting rights in this country and setting out in the clearest possible terms that Bermuda, in this 21st century, will not be turned back to worst excesses of a bygone colonial era.