Between Monday 23 and Thursday 26 November, 2020 I chaired, with Baroness Sugg, the eighth UK-Overseas Territories Joint Ministerial Council. The meeting was held virtually and was attended by OT leaders and elected representatives from Anguilla, Ascension Island, Bermuda, the British Virgin Islands, the Cayman Islands, the Falkland Islands, Gibraltar, Montserrat, Pitcairn, St Helena, the Sovereign Base Areas of Akrotiri and Dhekelia, Tristan da Cunha and the Turks and Caicos Islands.
The themes of discussion at this year’s Council included the impacts of the covid-19 global health pandemic; the constitutional relationship; economic resilience; the UK’s exit from the European Union; trade; border security; prisons; protecting the vulnerable (including mental health, domestic violence and children); the International Maritime Organisation (IMO) Instruments Implementation (III) code; environmental protection and COP26.
The Prime Minister addressed the Council. Other ministerial colleagues attending discussions included the right hon. Lord Goldsmith (Foreign, Commonwealth and Development Office and Department for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs), my right hon. and learned Friend the Lord Chancellor and Secretary of State for Justice, my right hon. Friends the Minister for Security, the Minister for the Armed Forces, the Under-Secretary of State for International Trade, the Minister for Patient Safety, Suicide Prevention and Mental Health and the Under-Secretary of State for Transport.
Members of the Council set out a number of important commitments and areas for joint work in the year ahead.
We discussed the impacts of the covid-19 global pandemic, where the territories expressed their thanks to the UK for its support. We also discussed the constitutional relationship and held discussions on economic resilience, trade and the UK’s departure from the EU, where we confirmed our commitment to supporting the overseas territories in building successful and resilient economies and to taking the needs of the territories into account when negotiating new trading relationships and when considering new funding programmes.
We discussed how we could better support vulnerable groups in the overseas territories, committing to strengthen mental health systems, to identify opportunities and take measures to tackle domestic abuse, and to explore whether a children’s commissioner role or similar might be appropriate for each territory.
We recognised the importance of the biodiversity of the territories and agreed to work together on ambitious action to tackle climate change at COP26 and agreed to work together on compliance with international maritime conventions.
We also set out programmes of work to support border security and prisons in the territories.
We agreed a joint communique which was issued following the conclusion of the conference and was published on the gov.uk website.
The communique and an associated press statement reflect the commitment of the Governments of the overseas territories and of the UK to continue to work in partnership to achieve the vision set out in the June 2012 White Paper: The Overseas Territories: Security, Success and Sustainability.
In line with our commitment in the White Paper, we will continue to report to Parliament on progress by Government Departments.