The United Kingdom and British Overseas Territories’ Joint Ministerial Council (JMC) wrapped up Thursday, 26 November, 2020. The JMC is the highest forum for political dialogue and consultation between the UK and elected leaders and representatives of the OTs for the purpose of providing leadership and promoting cooperation in areas of mutual interest.
The JMC meeting began Monday, 23 November, 2020, and was conducted virtually because of the COVID
-19 global pandemic. The meetings are usually held annually in London, which allows OT leaders direct access to UK ministers and officials.
The Monday meeting began with a discussion on the response of the OTs to the COVID
-19 pandemic, which was led by Minister for the Overseas Territories Baroness Sugg, who has since resigned as Minister, and Deputy Chief Medical Officer for England Dr. Jenny Harries. The UK Government noted the significant impact and shared challenges of COVID
-19 and congratulated Territory leaders on their handling of the response to the pandemic. The UK also promised to continue its support to the OTs in their fight against COVID
, including with the provision of approved vaccines.
Premier Hon. Alden McLaughlin spoke to Cayman’s resilience during the COVID
-19 pandemic telling JMC members that despite the negative impact COVID
has had on Cayman’s economy, Government has progressed several initiatives to lessen the impact and stimulate the local economy.
These initiatives include amendments to the Pensions Law to allow early access to pension funds, which has put about $400 million into the local economy. In addition Government provided various support programmes to help businesses stay in business as well as provided financial assistance for those unemployed, particularly in the Tourism Sector.
During a discussion about constitutional relationships between the OTs and the UK, Mr. McLaughlin spoke to JMC members regarding the new constitutional amendments that will come into force on 3 December, 2020, following talks, which began in 2018, and an agreement between the Cayman Islands and the United Kingdom.
“These changes are important and help ensure that the Cayman Islands’ ability to make decisions about key issues affecting our Islands are clear,” Mr. McLaughlin said. “For the first time there is enshrined in the Cayman Islands Constitution a mandatory provision that before the UK Government or the Parliament may legislate for us that, at a minimum, they have to consult with the Premier and the Cabinet has to signify its view on the proposal. That is a safeguard for the Cayman Islands that appears in no other Overseas Territory constitution.
“A new provision has been added to our Constitution to again make plain that the responsibility for the creation of domestic policy is a matter that rests squarely with the Government of the Cayman Islands and not the UK,” he said.
Also on Monday during a discussion about border security, which was led by Minister of State for Security in the Home Office James Borkenshire and Minister for the Armed Forced in the Ministry of Defence James Heappey, Mr. McLaughlin explained the Cayman Islands Customs and Border Control merger project, which has enhanced the country’s border protection service by bringing together the two significant law enforcement bodies that keep Cayman’s borders secure. This arrangement allows CBC to focus on border protection and the collection of Customs revenue. The management of work permits and permanent residency that previously was handled by the former Immigration Department has been placed with the Workforce Opportunities and Residency Cayman. Other Overseas Territories are said to be considering adopting a similar approach.
Mr. McLaughlin also highlighted recent enhancements to border protection and our resiliency to hazards with the addition of a new helicopter, the creation of the Cayman Islands Coast Guard and more recently the launch of the Cayman Islands Regiment.
On Tuesday in a live broadcast from 10 Downing Street, Prime Minister Boris Johnson
greeted OT leaders and provided a message that also set out the UK’s unwavering commitment to supporting the OTs as they deal with the impact of the coronavirus
He also reiterated the UK’s intention to strengthen ties with the OTs as the transition period of Brexit ends and the UK builds a new relationship with its European neighbours.
“Do not forget that the UK is absolutely committed to you, to your futures and to our partnership,” Mr. Johnson said. “As we go forward and recover from this pandemic, we want to make sure that we build back greener and that we look after island economies that are so vulnerable to climate change.”
In a Tuesday discussion about Brexit, the UK Government acknowledged that its withdrawal from the EU will impact several of the OTs, particularly in the areas of eligibility for and access to funding and trade. And so the UK reconfirmed to JMC members that the interests of the Overseas Territories will continue to be considered in discussions with the EU, including matters on trade, mobility and development funding.
On Wednesday, during a discussion on an introduction to the UK’s programme of prison support including prison standards led by Secretary of State for Justice Rt. Hon. Robert Buckland, QC, Home Affairs Minister Hon. Tara Rivers told JMC members about the Cayman Islands’ Independent Monitoring Board for Prisons, which became operational in 2019 to monitor the conditions and treatment of those imprisoned, incarcerated or otherwise detained in custody in the Cayman Islands.
Ms Rivers said that the board is broadly modelled after the UK Independent Monitoring Boards and replaces the work of the previous Prison Inspection Board.
“In their work, the members of the board are guided by a monitoring framework that categorizes the basic human rights standards and requirements around the World Health Organization’s four key tests of a healthy custodial environment,” she said. “Those include ensuring the safety of all prisoners, respect for the human dignity of prisoners, purposeful activities that benefit those incarcerated and rehabilitation that prepares them for release into the community in a way that helps them to reduce the likelihood of re-offending.”
On the subject of mental health on Wednesday, the UK said it recognized that most OTs are already doing work in this area and will offer support through Public Health England and the Conflict, Stability and Security Fund. The UK Overseas Territories Association will host a webinar on mental health in December for Territory and UK leaders and health experts to provide an opportunity for open discussion on priority issues around mental health stigma, systems, and awareness campaigns. The UK and OTs are committed to continue the work to strengthen mental health systems to improve the lives of people with mental health problems, including children and young people, those with severe mental illness and those in the criminal justice system.
On Thursday prior to a session on the environment, His Royal Highness Prince Charles greeted the leaders and spoke about the biodiversity of the OTs and the good work being done by them on environmental protection. He specifically mentioned his visit to the Cayman Islands in March 2019 where he saw first-hand the good work being done here to protect the environment and the work particularly done to protect our reefs.
Robert Courts, MP and Minister for Aviation, Maritime, Security and Civil Contingencies, Department of Transport opened the discussion on Thursday about International Maritime Organisation Instruments Implementation Code, or the III Code.
The UK reminded those present that the representation of the UK and OTs in the international maritime arena is undertaken as a single entity by the UK on behalf of all and compliance with conventions is a shared collective responsibility.
The UK welcomed the ongoing commitment by the Territories to achieving the III Code compliance prior to the International Maritime Organisation audit scheduled for early 2021 and noted the investment in people and projects so far, whilst recognizing the individual challenges.
The Rt. Hon. Lord Zac Goldsmith, Minister for the Pacific and Environment, and Dr. John Cortes, Gibraltar’s Minister for Environment, Sustainability and Climate Change, co-chaired the session on the environment. There was wide discussion about protecting both the marine and terrestrial environment with the support of UK environmental funding, such as Darwin Plus. Efforts to tackle climate change were also discussed as the UK will host COP26 in 2021. The Cayman Islands and the UK Government have begun drafting a climate change partnership agreement to take forward work in key areas including support on climate change risk assessment, renewable energy and protecting biodiversity.
Those attending the JMC on behalf of the UK included: The Minister for the Overseas Territories Baroness Sugg (now resigned), Minister for European Neighbourhood and Americas Wendy Morton, elected leaders and representatives of the OTs attended the meeting along with ministerial colleagues from across the UK Government including the Home Office, Ministry of Defence, Ministry of Justice, Department of Health and Social Care and Department for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs and the Department of Transport. Also attending were Minister of State and Minister for Security the Rt. Hon. James Brokenshire; Parliamentary Under Secretary of State James Heappey; Exchequer Secretary to the Treasury and Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State Kemi Badenoch; Parliamentary Under Secretary of State Graham Stuart; Minister of State Nadine Dorries; Lord Chancellor and Secretary of State for Justice the Rt. Hon. Robert Buckland; Parliamentary Under Secretary of State Robert Courts; and Minister for the Pacific and Environment the Rt. Hon. Lord Zac Goldsmith.