Britain’s Overseas Territories - Anomalous Colonial Remnants or Self-determination Case Studies?

Matthew Collyer

The Second World War sounded the death knell for the European colonial empires. Vast and complex systems of political relations combining territorial control, condominiums, informal influence, and economic hegemony collapsed or were disbanded. Colonies demanded independence and countries such as Britain, France and the Netherlands could no longer maintain such structures. The fundamental principles of decolonisation were spelt out in the 1960 UN resolution on the topic (1514 (XV)). Notably, it stated that full power should be transferred to all ‘non-self-governing territories’ in line with the principle that the ongoing ‘subjection of peoples’ represented a denial of fundamental human rights. Furthermore, to deny independence to a colony on the grounds of an inability, or lack of capacity, to govern itself was not an acceptable reason to limit the process. By the mid-1970's few colonial possessions remained, although the formal end of the British Empire is often considered to be 1997 when Hong Kong was returned to China.

However, there still remain a number of territories which do not possess full self-government, but instead depend on Britain for their defence and foreign policies. At first glance the situation of such regions would seem to be in clear violation of the UN resolution discussed above. The UN committee of decolonisation lists them as ‘non-self-governing’ territories, and they clearly do not possess the full capacities of independent states. But the situation is somewhat more complex. Included in the text of the resolution was the right to self-determination, suggesting that all people have a right to “freely determine their political status”. Most of these are small islands in the Caribbean and Atlantic, whose populations opted not to follow the path to formal independence. 

The Falkland Islands are, perhaps, the most famous example. Argentina attempted to acquire the territory during a brief war in 1982, and declares in its constitution that the Malvinas (Falklands) are an integral part of their state. But the residents of the islands have repeatedly voted to continue the current arrangements, with 99.8% voting in favour in the 2013 sovereignty referendum. Similarly, Gibraltar voted overwhelmingly in 2002 against any sharing of sovereignty with Spain. The question therefore arises, should such dependencies be granted a political status which would allow independence but which does not reflect the will of people?

An interest example of an alternative approach to the question of self-government in overseas territories is that followed by France towards its own overseas possessions. The Fifth Republic has followed a policy of integrating such dependencies into the domestic political structure of France. Notably, territories like French Guiana in South America, with a population of 250,000 people and an area the size of Austria, are formally part of France, sending representatives to the National Assembly and to the European Parliament. British territories however, have considerably smaller populations and are extensively dispersed, and there is even greater complexity related to the territories that will not be discussed here, with the expulsion of the people of the Chagos Archipelago being a particularly difficult case.

To return to the title of this piece; perhaps, in true fence-sitting style, the answer to the question is ‘yes’, and ‘perhaps’. Britain’s overseas territories are remnants of a once vast empire that hold a status unlike that of almost any other group. They are, therefore, anomalies. On the other hand, many have expressed a desire to remain in their current situation, and have resisted attempts to change their political structures, and in this regard they are examples of peoples determining their own future. This correspondent believes that those who seek greater sovereignty must be supported, but the will of those who genuinely, and democratically, do not, must be respected.

Just How Special? Brexit leads to new questions on Anglo-American relations

Ed Bithell

Barack Obama is a man used to having his voice heard. 

And yet, when he came to the UK, often referred to as the US’s closest ally, to express his views on our biggest foreign policy decision in forty years (in fact, since the one we might be about to reverse), that didn’t quite happen. The irony, of course, is that it was the very Eurosceptics who tout our “special relationship” with the with the US as more important than Europe that dismissed his statement that a post-Brexit UK would be at the “back of the queue” in US trade priorities (a statement which clearly showed his pro-British sentiments with its concessions to the word “queue”, whatever Boris Johnson says). 

Suddenly, Obama was irrelevant, his views on Brexit an intrusion on our decision as a nation, despite his government’s policy being the cornerstone of Brexiteers’ trade plans. He was also accused of having bias against the UK informed by his Kenyan ancestry, an accusation that combined the unpleasant tactic of deemphasising his American nationality with a possible admission that the narrative of strong links and trust with former colonies being a somewhat rose-tinted view of the past.

But the cat was out of the bag. Despite what Boris thinks, the elected president of the United States doesn’t think that the UK is more of a priority than the EU - and even if he did, the least active Congress in the history of the United States would be unlikely to hammer out a brand new trade agreement in the foreseeable future for him anyway. On the other side of the political spectrum, Brexit has only been championed by Ted Cruz with even Donald Trump, whom even Boris Johnson found himself dismissing as talking xenophobic nonsense, declining to endorse the Leave camp. 

However, the main reason that nobody else’s views can really be examined is that Barack Obama is pretty much the only politician in the entire United States who has time to spend more than a sentence at a time discussing something other than the next presidential election. Hillary Clinton and Bernie Sanders have expressed support for the EU and Ted Cruz has attacked it, both because it stands for big government and because it was an opportunity to contradict Obama, but these are merely facets of their overall statements on US foreign policy - because that is, and will remain, their priority until November, by which time the EU question will be long decided. It is further symptomatic of Donald Trump’s general attitude to politics that he did not express a view - after all, it might find itself in conflict with a more important view that he wishes to hold later on. Presidential candidates aside, prominent members of the US Congress have uniformly declined to express any view. In fact, politicians in the US are remarkably unified in their opinion that it is the decision of the British people alone.

As a result, we see more from the response of the rest of the USA’s political heavyweights (and Ted Cruz) than we do from President Obama. It isn’t that the top flight of American politics are anti-British, or in cahoots with the Eurocrats. It’s simply that our relationship with the EU isn’t their priority. And when we notice that, perhaps we can re-evaluate our relationship with them.

Photo from the Executive Office of the President of the United States.

Who Benefits from the International Arms Trade?

Oliver Ramsay Gray

The arms trade is big business, with global military spending last year totalling just over $1.5 trillion. Although the (legal) international arms market was only a fraction of this, at $83 billion, this still represents a significant market for potential profits. But who really benefits from the international arms trade, and what about the non-financial costs and benefits?

The clearest beneficiaries of the arms trade are, unsurprisingly, arms companies themselves; last year, the largest ten in the US and Europe had revenues of $203 billion (excluding non-military sales), the lion’s share of the international arms business. These international revenues, as David Cameron never fails to insist, contribute jobs and economic prosperity to the exporting country. For instance, the 1985 Al-Yamamah arms deal with Saudi Arabia has brought the UK $45 billion already and could bring in another $40 billion. However, the picture is not as simple as that. A shift in resources and demand over the long-term towards non-military economic sectors would likely bring about greater increases in standards of living. Although a challenging aim, this holds the greatest potential benefits to any exporter and can be seen in the past, for example when military spending fell by over 1% of global GDP in the years following the end of the Cold War. We must recognise that although the arms industry will always benefit from the international arms trade, the idea that the exporting nation inevitably benefits as well, as David Cameron persistently argues, is flawed in the long-term view.

Arms exports can also be used as a political tool, another means by which a state can strengthen strategic relations, bring others under its sphere of influence and project its power into other parts of the world. This is visible in Russia’s relationship with Syria, which has been tied up with the sale of missile defence systems and fighter jets – in part, a means to increase Syria’s dependency on Russia. Recent years in Syria serve to show how these exports have also helped Russia secure its strategic aims in the country by buttressing the Assad regime and so have worked as a type of limited intervention (though this was of course escalated last year). Clearly the exporter benefits in numerous ways here, as does the does the direct recipient, though the picture muddies when wider considerations are taken into account. Was Assad’s strengthening a “beneficial” development?

Arms sales are well known to increase the frequency and intensity of conflict. Even the legal international arms trade is closely tied up in this damaging situation and the costs of conflict are huge in both human and economic terms. This hurts not only those directly involved in conflict but has damaging knock-on impacts around the world. Although war might benefit its few victors politically, its costs are huge to everyone else involved. However, with the current international arms trade system the actions of one state can do little to affect the legal supply or demand for arms. Thus, in terms of the benefits to the exporter laid out above it makes sense for arms exporters to not take a unilaterally moral position. Of course, in the longer term, the benefit shifts towards a situation in which the supply of arms is restricted. However, this can only be achieved at a multi-state level rather than by one state taking it upon themselves.

We can see that it is overwhelmingly arms companies and, to a lesser extent, exporting states who benefit from the international arms trade. The situation is more complex when looking at recipients and considering the wider world. What does seem apparent, however, is that it would be counter to an individual state’s interests to clamp down on its own arms exports unilaterally when, without multi-state agreement, the benefits would shift to other exporters while the damaging impacts of supplying arms remain.

Britain set for EU referendum

Hubert Cruz

UK Prime Minister David Cameron announced that a referendum on Britain’s membership of the European Union (EU) will take place on 23 June. The referendum was pledged by the Conservative party, who won the general election last year. Voters will be asked, “Should the United Kingdom remain a member of the European Union or leave the European Union?” Cameron said he will campaign for the UK to remain in the EU after securing a list of membership reforms over lengthy negotiations with other EU leaders in the last few days.


The reforms include changes to the provision of migrants’ benefits. If the UK votes to remain in the EU, it will be able to limit in-work benefits to migrant workers for the first four years for their stay. However, the overall restrictions must be lifted within seven years. In terms of sovereignty, member states can stall EU legislations with a lower threshold of objections from 55% of national EU parliaments. The UK is also promised the right to veto financial regulations of the Eurozone, and an explicit opt-out of the commitment to an “ever-closer union” with other EU member states.


Despite the Prime Minister’s case for the UK to remain in a reformed EU, several cabinet members, including Michael Gove, have already registered their decisions to campaign for the opposite camp. As opinion polls after the referendum announcement show a marginal lead for leaving the EU, the UK is braced for another close and intensive referendum that will determine the country’s future.


Should the UK leave or remain in the EU? What are your views over the proposed EU reforms? Whatever your view, send it in - via Twitter, Facebook or our website. To know more about the issue, check out the articles below:


BBC – UK and the EU: Better off out or in?

The Guardian – EU referendum to take place on 23 June, David Cameron confirms

Independent – EU deal: Did the final agreement deliver on David Cameron's promises?

Survation – First polling conducted since specific demands for EU reform established. Leave marginally ahead of Remain


Foreign Policy: The View from Oxford University Liberal Democrats

Guy Butler and Matt Sumption, Writing for OULD

It is vitally important for the Liberal Democrats to develop a coherent and trust-worthy foreign policy, as this will be one of the primary topics of debate over the next parliament. 

The Liberal Democrats have long been in favour of greater cooperation with our European counterparts. This is often characterised as an unqualified pro-EU stance, but as with all characterisations, it misses the nuance of the stance. It is true that the Lib Dems will campaign for the UK to remain in the EU, principally on the basis of the economic security that the common market affords us, the added security to deal with threats such as cross border crime, and the necessity of a supra-national body to coordinate responses to problems that cross national borders. Europe cannot deal with problems like climate change and mass migration on an ad-hoc basis. But that does not mean that the EU is perfect. Lib Dem MEPs have been shown to be the most hardworking members of the European Parliament through their work to reform Europe, to push environmental protection, to reform the Common Agricultural Policy and to move towards a common market in services. Given the huge storms that are brewing on the horizon, we should not be retreating inwards, but instead be looking outwards to take a leading role in setting the European agenda. 

Given the huge storms that are brewing on the horizon, we should not be retreating inwards”

There are many Liberal Democrats who feel strongly that our nuclear deterrent should be scrapped unilaterally, given its destructive potential, cost and the fact that it is very likely that it will ever be used. However, now is not the time for us to advocate dumping our nuclear deterrent. With Iran having finally buckled in negotiations after intense haggling with nuclear-armed powers such as ourselves, there is a good case for maintaining our nuclear deterrent for the leverage that it affords to Britain’s negotiating position. Renewed Russian aggression in Eastern Europe and now Syria means that we must think about the kind of message we would send to others if we engaged in unilateral disarmament. It is one thing to lead by example, but quite another to ignore our allies in Europe and NATO at the very time when their security is being called into question. If we want to be taken seriously in vital negotiations on subjects such as the refugee crises, we need to build up a reputation for fostering consensus and goodwill. 

At conference, a motion proposing the scrapping of Trident was amended, delaying our party’s final decision on the matter for at least 18 months. This is sensible, given the shifting nature of geopolitics at the moment.  We are the only prominent national party that looks likely to clearly oppose the like-for-like replacement of Trident.  While it appears to be a ‘fudge’, the public will respond better to a measured stance on security than an ideological abject opposition to the renewal of any part of our nuclear stock. 

If less money is to be spent on Trident, we must consider what kind of nature alternative defence spending would take. We have brand-new aircraft carriers but we lack suitable aircraft for them, a crucial deficiency. However, if the Liberal Democrats are serious about establishing legal channels for refugees to come to Europe, we need to set aside an appropriate sum from the defence budget in order to make sure that these are secured, and that the horror of Mediterranean people-smuggling is properly tackled. 

A lot has been made about the moral cause for military intervention abroad, particularly since the disasters of Iraq and Libya. Liberals have always had strong differences over foreign policy, and Liberalism as an ideology has been used to support Imperialism and non-intervention alike over the past century and a half. A consistent, moral foreign policy is always difficult to pursue, but the Liberal Democrats should make clear that this is what we would offer. 

Liberal countries should not stand idly by as despots massacre thousands of their own people”

We must follow Kennedy’s example by only championing humanitarian intervention abroad when it is undertaken legally and in concert with the right allies. We should remember the example of Bosnia, where we were one of the first parties to advocate intervention. But we struggle to justify any intervention abroad, even when it is clearly undertaken with humanitarian interest, when we simultaneously sell weapons to countries with poor human rights records such as Saudi Arabia and subsequently promote those countries to the head of UN human-rights councils. Liberal countries should not stand idly by as despots massacre thousands of their own people, but any intervention we do take, be it by establishing no-fly zones, providing aid or deploying troops, must be done within the context of a broader foreign policy that consistently upholds liberal, ethical values. 

A foreign policy that is founded on a desire to work with our partners to seek common solutions, that has sought to uphold universal human rights, and that is not afraid to champion the voices of the vulnerable, wherever they are, is a liberal one, and one that is in the best interests of the UK.