By Qasim Swati (United Kingdom)
Whether this would be the British Empire (being at its height in 1920) or the Mongol Empire (1270 or 1309), the Russian Empire (1895) or the Qing Dynasty (1790), the Spanish Empire (1810) or the Second French Colonial Empire (1920), the Abbasid Caliphate (750) or the Umayyad Caliphate (720), the Yuan Dynasty (1310) or the Xiongnu Empire (176 BC), the Empire of Brazil (1889) or the Empire of Japan (1942), one day, their power had to decline, as it is said that ‘Every rise has a fall’, which an American comedian, radio commentator, author and Buddhist mediation instructor, Wes Nisker, has elaborated on, as “Empires rise and fall like the abdomen of God. It’s just the universe breathing.”
Playing its role as an imperial actor and power for some 500 years (1496 – 1997), the Handover Ceremony of Hong Kong in 1997 (the ceremony of the transfer of sovereignty over Hong Kong to the People’s Republic of China from the United Kingdom of Great Britain and Northern Ireland, beginning on the night of 30 June, 1997 and ending on the morning of 1 July, 1997) marked for many “the end of the British Empire”, but the United Kingdom is still retaining the sovereignty of more than 14 Territories outside the British Isles.
“The British Overseas Territories (OTs)”, according to the Fifteenth Report of Session 2017 -19, titled ‘Global Britain and the British Overseas Territories: Resetting the relationship’ by the House of Commons Foreign Affairs Committee, “are a set of largely self-governing territories spanning nine time zones, from the Atlantic to the Pacific, the Antarctic to the Caribbean.”
With a total population of around 250,000 inhabitants, these British Overseas Territories are spread from Bermuda in the Atlantic to the Pitcairn in the Pacific, across nine time zones and four oceans. Despite not being part of the United Kingdom and each one having its own constitution, they pride themselves on their deeply-rooted British identities and share a bond with the UK, while believing in Global Britain as a living reality, where they have a significant role to play in.
Whilst retaining sovereignty of these territories outside the British Isles, the United Kingdom has an obligation to provide for the wellbeing of their residents under article 73 of the United Nations Charter. As such, these UK Overseas Territories rely on the UK for their foreign relations, defence, development and other such affairs, managed by various UK government departments, in particular, the Department for International Development (DFID). However, it is the Foreign and Commonwealth Office (FCO) to be, eventually, responsible for managing UK’s relationships with the elected governments of the British Overseas Territories and meeting its international obligations towards the OTs.
Most of the matters and affairs of meeting the UK’s international commitments and responsibilities towards the British Overseas Territories are dealt with by the FCO, including appointing the UK civil servants (who serve as governors of the OTs), shouldering the responsibility for the security and good governance of the Territories and acting as liaison between the OTs and the United Kingdom.
The different British Overseas Territories include Turks and Caicos Islands, the Sovereign Base Areas of Akrotiri and Dhekelia, South Georgia and the South Sandwich Islands, Saint Helena (with Ascension Island and Tristan da Cunha), Pitcairn, Henderson, Ducie and Oeno Islands, Montserrat, Gibraltar, the Falkland Islands, the Cayman Islands, the British Virgin Islands, the British Indian Ocean Territory, the British Antarctic Territory, Bermuda and Anguilla, etc.
Having a hugely strong sense of British identity, these UK Overseas Territories do their best to maintain their bond with the United Kingdom, and the majority of their inhabitants believe that Global Britain is a true fact (living reality), whilst considering themselves as members of a global British family. It was because of this strength of their British identity that Eric Bush (the government’s representative of the Cayman Islands in the UK) once said, as “We were settled by the British, and being British is in our DNA – it is who we are.”
Besides keeping possession of over 14 British Overseas Territories, the United Kingdom has also a great influence within various Commonwealth realms (sovereign/independent co-equal kingdoms, created through the independence of former British dependencies and colonies). These are 16 Commonwealth realms that have Her Majesty Queen Elizabeth II as their head of state and monarch. Accordingly, Her Majesty Queen Elizabeth II is the monarch and head of state (along with the UK) of such Commonwealth realms, as Tuvalu, Solomon Islands, Saint Vincent and the Grenadines, Saint Lucia, Saint Kitts and Nevis, Papua New Guinea, New Zealand, Jamaica, Grenada, Canada, Belize, Barbados, The Bahamas, Antigua and Barbuda, and Australia. Nevertheless, Queen Elizabeth II used to be the head of state and monarch of Ceylon (Sri Lanka), Pakistan and South Africa in 1952 as well.
Apart from the British role by retaining its Overseas Territories and its influence in the Commonwealth realms, Her Majesty Queen Elizabeth II is also the Head of the Commonwealth of Nations (commonly known as the Commonwealth), a political association of 54 member states, virtually all of them being former British territories, colonies or dependencies of those colonies. The member states of the Commonwealth of Nations include such countries of the world, as Zambia, Vanuatu, United Kingdom, Uganda, Tuvalu, Trinidad and Tobago, Tonga, Tanzania, Sri Lanka, South Africa, Solomon Islands, Singapore, Sierra Leone, Seychelles, Samoa, Saint Vincent and the Grenadines, Saint Lucia, Saint Kitts and Nevis, Rwanda, Papua New Guinea, Pakistan, Nigeria, New Zealand, Nauru, Namibia, Mozambique, Mauritius, Malta, The Maldives, Malaysia, Malawi, Lesotho, Kiribati, Kenya, Jamaica, India, Guyana, Grenada, Ghana, The Gambia, Fiji, Eswatini, Dominica, Cyprus, Canada, Cameroon, Brunei, Botswana, Belize, Barbados, Bangladesh, The Bahamas, Australia, Antigua and Barbuda. Queen Elizabeth II is recognised by all these members of the Commonwealth of Nations as the “symbol of their free association” and serves as a leader.