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Island faces ‘democratic deficit’ in Westminster

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THERE is a ‘big democratic deficit’ in how Jersey is represented in Westminster and radical reforms, including sending representatives to Parliament, need to be considered, a Conservative MP has said.

MP Andrew Rosindell (26142469)

Andrew Rosindell MP, the chairman of the All Party Parliamentary Group for the Channel Islands, said that the independent governments of the Crown Dependencies – Jersey, Guernsey and the Isle of Man – should be respected and they should not be afraid to seek fairer representation in London. He said the British Overseas Territories, such as Bermuda, Cayman and the British Virgin Islands, also needed to be better represented.

Mr Rosindell has also proposed that a special select committee should be established to hear the concerns of the 21 dependencies and territories and pointed out that the UK parliament makes many decisions which affect them, in such areas as defence, foreign affairs, use of currency and Brexit, despite the fact they have no democratic representation.

Relations between Britain’s self-governing offshore islands and Westminster has become strained in recent years following attempts by the UK parliament, spearheaded by Andrew Mitchell MP and Dame Margaret Hodge MP, to impose corporate transparency laws upon them.

The All Party Parliamentary Group for the Channel Islands includes several MPs and is effectively run on a voluntary basis with a view to liaising with and representing the islands in Westminster.

Mr Rosindell, who opposed the actions of Mr Mitchell and Dame Margaret, said that he believed all of Britain’s offshore territories would be better represented if more formal mechanisms were put in place.

‘It is a bit of a sacrifice for those MPs who work for the all-party group, when they have that much to be getting on with in their own constituencies, to stick their necks out for the dependencies and territories as well,’ he said.

‘I don’t mind doing that because I’m in politics [and] because I believe in things, but I do think that we need a better way of explaining or promoting this.’

Mr Rosindell’s proposals include setting up a new select committee and exploring the possibility of MPs from the islands standing in the House of Commons.

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‘There are several ideas, all of which the Crown Dependencies and Overseas Territories should be open to consideration of,’ he said.

‘What I proposed, and at one stage government was seriously looking at this, would be to establish a committee of parliament that specialises in everything to do with the 21 dependencies and territories.

‘This would be the mildest form of ensuring they get a voice. At the moment, if you want to talk about Jersey to a select committee, you have to go to the Justice select committee, which deals with prison and the judicial system.

‘Frankly, it’s a complete anomaly that the Crown Dependencies are stuck in that department. So, there needs to be a proper mechanism for the Chief Minister of Jersey to be able to come over here, state their case and ask questions, but also for us to be able to ask questions of them and for that to be formally fed back into departments. That’s what I wanted, but it was pushed aside.’

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Mr Rosindell added that he believed that the Crown Dependencies and British Overseas Territories should ‘have nothing to fear’ about sending their own elected representatives to Westminster.

‘The UK has 21 places around the world that have no elected voice on defence issues, on foreign policy issues, on international relations, matters to do with currency, the global environmental issue, Brexit,’ he said.

‘I don’t think you are ever going to solve this until you have someone from Jersey here to speak for themselves and I think in the end there’s a big democratic deficit for the islands right now.

‘If we ever get to the stage where all the territories have an elected representative, what we need is for there to be a constitutional guarantee that enshrines self-government, devolution and independence of the jurisdictions.

‘But there’s nothing to fear with it, as long as it is constitutionally binded in law so that they can’t do things like impose taxes. People in Jersey may fear that this will bind them closer to the UK, but we have to get past that idea.’

Ian Heath

By Ian Heath
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