There are 14 United Kingdom Overseas Territories (UKOTs) spread across the globe, of which nine are directly associated with the European Union (EU) via the Overseas Association Decision (OAD) adopted by the EU in 2013. These are Anguilla, Bermuda, British Virgin Islands (BVI), Cayman Islands, Falkland Islands, Montserrat, Pitcairn, St Helena and Turks and Caicos Islands. Ascension and Tristan da Cunha fall under St Helena in the OAD. Historically the most important relationship the UKOTs have had is with the United Kingdom (UK), but over the last fifteen years links with the EU have grown.
The UKOTs benefit currently from economic and environmental cooperation with the EU, as well as development assistance and policy dialogue. Practical aspects of cooperation are welcomed by the UKOTs. For example, free access to the EU market has been very beneficial to Falkland Islands and Tristan da Cunha, with respect to fisheries and agricultural exports; Bermuda’s financial services industry with its focus on insurance is aided by its close links with the EU, both in terms of it being a large market, but also as the EU recognises Bermuda’s regulatory system as equivalent to its own; while all Territories gain from free movement across the EU, which facilitates business links and educational opportunities.
Funding from the EU is also having a positive impact on the UKOTs, amounting to at least €80 million between 2014-2020. Recent and ongoing projects are focusing on supporting their economies, and helping the Territories to address environmental challenges such as climate change, disaster preparedness and the conservation of their biodiversity – 90% of the biodiversity in the UK is located in the UKOTs.
Beyond the policy benefits, the deepening institutional links between the UKOTs and the EU, particularly via the European Commission, have been supported by the Territories, providing as they do more direct access to EU policy makers. In addition, the growing cooperation between the UKOTs and Dutch, French and Danish territories in the Overseas Countries and Territories Association (OCTA) has brought real gains, including greater political visibility of the territories in Brussels and a higher international profile.
Politically, there is also a view that the EU reinforces the self-determination of the UKOTs, particularly where a territory is the subject of a territorial dispute between the UK and other states, for example Falkland Islands.
It is clear therefore that the UKOTs benefit in several important ways from their relationship with the EU, and many of these will be placed at serious risk if the UK decides to leave the EU.
Clegg, P. (2016). The United Kingdom Overseas Territories and the European Union: Benefits and prospects. Part I – EU benefits to the United Kingdom Overseas Territories