Citizen rights such as the ability to vote are best dealt with by the Bermuda Government, a visiting politician said yesterday.
Lord Ahmad of Wimbledon, the UK Foreign Office Minister for the Overseas Territories, added that the extension of the right to vote to Britons and other UK nationals resident in Bermuda was one that the island needed to look at “very carefully”.
Lord Ahmad said a Foreign Affairs Committee report that recommended the extension of the franchise in Overseas Territories had attracted “a lot of publicity and comment”.
He added: “First and foremost, the FAC is not part of Her Majesty’s government.”
Lord Ahmad said: “One shouldn’t be alarmist about these issues, it’s a recommendation of a committee. And like all recommendations of the committee, the UK Government looks at those recommendations and will respond accordingly.
“There will be an official response in due course.”
Lord Ahmad, on his first visit to the island, was speaking after a meeting with David Burt, the Premier. Mr Burt said in February that Bermuda would fight a “tone deaf” recommendation made by the FAC to the House of Commons that British residents on the island should be granted the right to vote.
The committee report, Global Britain and the British Overseas Territories: Resetting the Relationship, said: “While we recognise that the OTs are small communities with unique cultural identities, we do not accept that there is any justification to deny legally resident British Overseas Territory and UK citizens the right to vote and to hold elected office.
“This elevates one group of British people over another and risks undermining the ties that bind the UK and the OTs together in one global British family.”
The recommendation was one of 14 made by the group, which also covered public beneficial ownership registries, same-sex marriage laws and access to treatment by the British National Health Service.
Mr Burt said that he and Lord Ahmad had discussed passports, economic substance regulations, child protection and public registers of beneficial ownership.
Lord Ahmad said that same-sex marriage had also been discussed and that the UK’s position was well defined.
He added: “We have legislated for that within the UK. In terms of the matter here in Bermuda, I know that is something which is going through due legal process, and I think that has to be respected.”
Lord Ahmad said: “The United Kingdom’s position on this is very clear, and we will continue to stress that in all our bilateral discussions as I did this morning with Premier Burt.”
He dismissed the suggestion that the relationship between Britain and its Overseas Territories had broken down.
He added: “There are points of difference, and it’s important that we have a discussion on those points of difference and agree a way forward.”
Lord Ahmad said Britain’s relationship with its territories was “vibrant, open, but productive and progressive”.
He added that the relationship that the UK had with Bermuda and the other territories was “part of what defines modern Britain today”.
Lord Ahmad said: “It is valued, it is one we respect, and one of which is steeped in history.”
He added: “I also believe there is a very positive future and progress to be made in developing that relationship.”