British overseas territories

British overseas territories

The British Overseas Territories are fourteen territories that are under the sovereignty of the United Kingdom, but which do not form part of the United Kingdom itself. [ The 14 Territories] ]

The name British Overseas Territory was introduced by the British Overseas Territories Act 2002, and replaced the name British-Dependent Territory, which was introduced by the British Nationality Act 1981. Before that, the territories were known as colonies or Crown colonies. The British Overseas Territories are also referred to as overseas territories of the United Kingdom, [ [ CIA - The World Factbook - Falkland Islands (Islas Malvinas) ] ] UK overseas territories, [ [ UK overseas territories] ] or, when the context is clear, simply the Overseas Territories.

The territories of Jersey, Guernsey, and the Isle of Man, though also under the sovereignty of the British Crown, have a slightly different constitutional relationship with the United Kingdom, and are consequently classed as Crown dependencies rather than Overseas Territories. Territories and dependencies are distinct from the Commonwealth of Nations, a voluntary association of former British colonies and latterly other nations such as Mozambique that have joined because of the benefits it offers.

In a historical context, colonies should be distinguished from protectorates and protected states, which though under British control, were nominally independent states, whereas colonies were part of the British stateFact|date=April 2008. They should also not be confused with Dominions, which, known collectively as the "Commonwealth", were independent states, held to be equal in sovereign status to the United Kingdom within the Empire and Commonwealth after the Statute of Westminster in 1931. Crown colonies, such as Hong Kong, were differentiated from other colonies in being administered directly by the Crown, without the degree of local autonomy found in self-governed colonies such as Bermuda.

The current population of all UK overseas territories is estimated at 247,899Fact|date=April 2008.


The original English colonies in the New World were plantations of English subjects in lands hitherto outside the dominions of the Crown. The first such plantation was in Newfoundland, where English fishermen routinely set up seasonal camps in the 16th century.

What later became known as the "Old Empire" began in 1607 with the settlement of Jamestown, the first successful permanent colony in "Virginia" (a term that was then applied generally to North America). In 1609, a second colony was unintentionally established in Bermuda (as an extension of Virginia), which, with the loss of the American colonies in 1783, is the oldest British colony in existence ("English" colonies became "British" with the 1707 unification of the Kingdoms of England and Scotland to form the Kingdom of Great Britain) .

In the historical context the term "Crown colony" was used to indicate that a specific jurisdiction within the British Empire had their local powers revoked and all major local governance was vested in direct British governance through a Governor. [ [ Political Traditions] ] [ [ Library of Congress: Federal Research Division] ]

Shortlist of jurisdictions that were previously changed to Crown colony status:
* TRI - in 1797
* DMA - in 1805
* LCA - in 1814

The growth of the British Empire in the 19th century, to its peak in the 1920s, saw the UK acquire over one quarter of the world's land mass, including territories with large indigenous populations in Asia and Africa, which were held for commercial and strategic reasons rather than for settlementFact|date=April 2008. The late 19th century saw the larger settler colonies — in Canada, Australia, New Zealand and South Africa — becoming self-governing colonies and achieving independence in all matters except foreign policy, defence and trade. Separate self-governing colonies federated to become Canada (in 1867) and the Commonwealth of Australia (in 1901). These and other large self-governing colonies had become known as Dominions by the 1920s. The Dominions achieved full independence with the Statute of Westminster (1931). The Empire was renamed the British Commonwealth to reflect such changes and in 1949 became known as the Commonwealth of Nations. Most of the British colonies in Africa, Asia and the Caribbean achieved independence. Some colonies became Commonwealth Realms, retaining the British monarch as head of state, others became republics but acknowledged Queen Elizabeth II as Head of the Commonwealth.

The 1980s saw the United Kingdom lose its last mainland colonies, with the independence of Southern Rhodesia (now Zimbabwe) in Africa in 1980 and British Honduras (now Belize) in Central America in 1981. The last major colony that remained was Hong Kong, with a population of over 5 million. Unlike other territories, the territory of Hong Kong had two different arrangements:
*Hong Kong Island and the Kowloon Peninsula were ceded to Britain in perpetuity by the Treaty of Nanking and the Convention of Peking.
*An area of the Chinese mainland that became known as the New Territories was leased to Britain for 99 years from 1898 to accommodate Hong Kong's growing population.

With 1997 approaching, the United Kingdom and China negotiated the Sino-British Joint Declaration, which led to the whole of Hong Kong becoming a "special administrative region" of China in 1997, subject to various conditions intended to guarantee the preservation of Hong Kong's capitalist economy and its way of life under British rule for at least 50 years after the handoverFact|date=April 2008. This was because Hong Kong's infrastructure was significantly interconnected with that of Guangdong Province, which would make it virtually impossible for those areas ceded in perpetuity to continue functioning without importing virtually all of its necessities.

Following the return of Hong Kong, the remaining colonial possessions are generally small island territories with small populations, and the uninhabited British Antarctic Territory. The reasons for these territories not achieving independence vary, and include:
* lack of support for independence among the local population;
* a small population size making the possibility of success as a sovereign nation more difficult;
* dependence on economic aid from the UK;
* being uninhabited territories used for scientific or military purposes;
* a need for British military presence to guard against hostile neighbours;
* a lack of any economic or political justification for independence.

In 2002, the UK Parliament passed the British Overseas Territories Act 2002. This reclassified the UK's dependent territories as "Overseas Territories" and, with the exception of those people solely connected with the Sovereign Base Areas of Cyprus, restored full British citizenship to their inhabitants.

It was once said that "the sun never sets on the British Empire" [ [ The Sun Never Set on the British Empire ] ] , and the British Overseas Territories still extend to every geographic region of the World, with the Caribbean Overseas Territories in North America, The Falklands in South America, Saint Helena and Dependencies in Africa, Pitcairn in Oceania, Gibraltar in Europe, British Indian Ocean Territory in Asia, and South Georgia and the South Sandwich Islands in Antarctica.

Current Overseas Territories


Head of State

The head of state in the Overseas Territories is the British monarch, currently Queen Elizabeth II. The Queen's role in the territories is in her role as Queen of the United Kingdom, and not in right of each territory. The Queen appoints a representative in each territory to exercise her executive power. In territories with a permanent population, a Governor is appointed by the Queen on the advice of the British Government, usually a retired senior military officer, or a senior civil servant. In territories without a permanent population, a Commissioner is usually appointed to represent the Queen. For Overseas Territories with dependencies, the Governor may appoint an Administrator to represent him or her in that dependencyFact|date=April 2008.

The role of the Governor is to act as the "de facto" head of state, and they are usually responsible for appointing the head of government, and senior political positions in the territory. The Governor is also responsible for liaising with the UK Government, and carrying out any ceremonial duties. A Commissioner has the same powers as a Governor, but also acts as the head of government.


All the Overseas Territories have their own system of government, and localised laws. The structure of the government appears to be closely correlated to the size and political development of the territory.

Legal system

Each Overseas Territory has its own legal system independent of the United Kingdom. The legal system is generally based on English common law, with some distinctions for local circumstances. Each territory has its own Attorney General, and court system. For the smaller territories, the UK may appoint a UK-based lawyer or judge to work on legal cases. This is particularly important for cases involving serious crimes and where it is impossible to find a jury who will not know the defendant in a small population islandFact|date=April 2008.

The Pitcairn rape trial of 2004 is an example of how the UK may choose to provide the legal framework for particular cases where the territory cannot do so alone.

Relations with the UK

The Foreign and Commonwealth Office has the responsibility of looking after the interests of all Overseas Territories except one. The Overseas Territory Department is headed by the Foreign Office Minister for the Overseas Territories, currently the Parliamentary Under Secretary of State Meg Munn. The exception is the Sovereign Base Areas territory, which comes under the jurisdiction of the Ministry of Defence.

In 1999, the FCO published the [ Partnership for Progress and Prosperity: Britain and the Overseas Territories] report which set out the UK's policy for the Overseas Territories, covering four main areas:
* Self-determination
* Responsibilities of the UK and the territories
* Democratic autonomy
* Provision for help and assistance

The UK and the Overseas Territories do not have diplomatic representations, although the governments of the Overseas Territories with indigenous populations (except Bermuda) all retain a representative office in London. The [ United Kingdom Overseas Territories Association (UKOTA)] also represents the interests of the territories in London.

The UK provides financial assistance to the Overseas Territories via the Department of International Development. Currently only Montserrat and Saint Helena receive budgetary aid (ie financial contribution to recurrent funding). Several specialist funds are made available by the UK, including:
* The [ Good Government Fund] which provides assistance on government administration;
* The [ Economic Diversification Programme Budget] which aim to diversify and enhance the economic bases of the territories

Foreign affairs

Foreign Affairs of the Overseas Territories are handled by the Foreign and Commonwealth Office in London. However some territories maintain diplomatic officers in nearby countries for trade and immigration purposes. Several of the Caribbean territories maintain membership of the Organisation of Eastern Caribbean States and the Caribbean Community. None of the territories is a member of the Commonwealth of Nations, although they do take part in the Commonwealth Games.

Gibraltar is the only Overseas Territory that is part of the European Union (EU), although it is not part of the customs union and is not a member in its own right. None of the other Overseas Territories are members of the EU, and the main body of EU law does not apply and, although certain slices of EU law are applied to those territories as part of the EU's Association of Overseas Countries and Territories (OCT Association), they are not commonly enforceable in local courts. The OCT Association also provides Overseas Territories with structural funding for regeneration projects.

Since the return of full British citizenship to most 'belongers' of Overseas Territories (mainly since the British Overseas Territories Act 2002), the citizens of those territories hold concurrent European Union citizenship, giving them rights of free movement across all EU member states.

Several nations dispute the UK's sovereignty in the following Overseas Territories:

* British Antarctic Territory — Territory overlaps Antarctic claims made by Chile and Argentina (though under the Antarctic Treaty System, these claims are not disputed)
* British Indian Ocean Territory — claimed by Mauritius and Seychelles
* Falkland Islands — claimed by Argentina
* Gibraltar — claimed by Spain
* South Georgia and the South Sandwich Islands — claimed by Argentina
* Sovereign Base Areas of Akrotiri and Dhekelia — claimed by Cyprus


None of the Overseas Territories have their own nationality status, and all citizens are classed as British Overseas Territories citizens (BOTC). They do however, have legislative independence over immigration, and holding the status of a BOTC does not automatically give a person a right to abode in any of the territories, as it depends on the territory's immigration laws. A territory may issue Belonger status to allow a person classed as a BOTC to reside in the territory that they have close links with. Non-BOTC citizens may acquire Belonger status in order to reside in a particular territory (and may subsequently become naturalised BOTC if they wish).

Historically, most inhabitants of the former British Empire held the status of British subject, which was usually lost upon independence. From 1949, British subjects in the United Kingdom and the remaining crown colonies became citizens of the United Kingdom and Colonies. However changes in British immigration and nationality law between 1962 and 1983 saw the creation of a separate British Dependent Territories citizenship with effect from January, 1983. Citizens in most territories were stripped of full British citizenship. This was mainly to prevent a mass exodus of the citizens of Hong Kong to the UK before the agreed handover to China in 1997. Exception was made for the Falkland Islands, which had been invaded the previous year by Argentina. Full British citizenship was soon returned to the people of Gibraltar due to their friction with Spain.

However, the British Overseas Territories Act 2002 replaced dependent territory citizenship with British Overseas Territories citizenship, and restored full British citizenship to all BOTCs except those from the Sovereign Base Areas of Cyprus. This restored to BOTCs the right to reside in the UK.

British citizens do not, however, have an automatic right to reside in any of the Overseas Territories. Some territories prohibit immigration, and any visitors are required to seek the permission of the territory's government to live in the territory. As they are used primarily as military bases, Ascension Island and the British Indian Ocean Territory do not allow visitors to the territory unless on official business.


Defence of the Overseas Territories is the responsibility of the UK. Many of the Overseas Territories are used as military bases by the UK and its allies.

* Ascension Island (a dependency of Saint Helena) - the Base (formerly known as RAF Ascension Island) is used by both the Royal Air Force and the United States Air Force.
* Bermuda - became the primary Royal Navy base in the Western Hemisphere, following US independence. The Naval establishment included an admiralty, a dockyard, and a naval squadron. A considerable military garrison was built up to protect it, and Bermuda, which the British Government came to see as a base, rather than as a colony, was known as the "Gibraltar of the West" [] . Canada and the USA also established bases in Bermuda during the Second World War, which were maintained through the Cold War. Since 1995, the military force in Bermuda has been reduced to the local territorial battalion, the Bermuda Regiment.
* British Indian Ocean Territory - the island of Diego Garcia is home to a large naval base and airbase leased to the United States by the United Kingdom until 2036 (unless renewed), but that either government can opt out of the agreement in 2016.
* Falkland Islands - the British Forces Falkland Islands includes commitments from the British Army, Royal Air Force and Royal Navy.
* Gibraltar - a Royal Navy dockyard, also used by NATO. RAF Gibraltar is used by the RAF and NATO. The local garrison is manned by the Royal Gibraltar Regiment.
* The Sovereign Base Areas of Akrotiri and Dhekelia in Cyprus - maintained as strategic British military bases in the eastern Mediterranean Sea.

ymbols and insignia

Each Overseas Territory has been granted its own flag and coat of arms by the British monarch. Traditionally, the flags follow the Blue Ensign design, with the Union Flag in the canton, and the territory's coat of arms in the fly. Exceptions to this are Bermuda which uses a Red Ensign; British Antarctic Territory which uses a White Ensign; British Indian Ocean Territory which uses a Blue Ensign with wavy lines to symbolise the sea; and Gibraltar which uses a banner of its coat of arms (the flag of the city of Gibraltar). Gibraltar's coat of arms is unique in that it is the only armorial insignia that dates from before the period of British colonial administrationFact|date=April 2008.

The Sovereign Base Areas of Akrotiri and Dhekelia are the only British Overseas Territories without an official flag of their own. The Union Flag is used in this territory and is also used for Ascension Island.

=Gallery of


ee also

*British Overseas Territories Act 2002
*British Overseas Territories citizen
*Foreign and Commonwealth Office
*Colonial Department
*Secretary of State for the Colonies
*Colonial Office
*British Empire
*Crown dependency
*Self-governing colony
*Commonwealth Realm

Further reading

* Harry Ritchie: "The Last Pink Bits"
* Simon Winchester: "Outposts: Travel to the Remains of the British Empire" (published in 1985 in the UK as "Outposts: Journeys to the Surviving Relics of the British Empire" also in the US as "The Sun Never Sets: Travels to the Remaining Outposts of the British Empire".)
* George Drower: "Britain's Dependent Territories", Dartmouth, 1992
* George Drower: "Overseas Territories Handbook", TSO, 1998
* Boromé, Joseph. 'How Crown Colony Government Came to Dominica by 1898'. In Aspects of Dominican History (Roseau, Dominica, 1972), 120-50.
* [ The Caribbean in the Wider World, 1492-1992 By Bonham C. Richardson]

External links

* [ Foreign and Commonwealth Office- "UK Overseas Territories"]
* [ The Commonwealth] - UK government site
* [ Decolonisation] - History links for the end of the European formal Empires,
* [ UK Overseas Territories Conservation Forum]
* [ British Overseas Territories Act 2002- Text of the Act]
* [ United Kingdom Overseas Territories Association]
* [ Britlink - The British Overseas Territories]

Template group
list =

Wikimedia Foundation. 2010.

Look at other dictionaries:

  • British Overseas Territories — British Overseas Territories …   Wikipedia

  • British Overseas Territories citizen — The status of British Overseas Territories citizen relates to persons holding British nationality by virtue of a connection with a British Overseas Territory.British Nationality Act 1981The British Nationality Act 1981 came into force on 1… …   Wikipedia

  • British Overseas Territories Act 2002 — The British Overseas Territories Act 2002 (2002 c. 8) is an Act of Parliament passed in the United Kingdom in 2002, which superseded parts of the British Nationality Act 1981. It makes provision for the renaming of the British Dependent… …   Wikipedia

  • British Overseas Territories Act 2002 — Der British Overseas Territories Act 2002 (2002, Kapitel 8) ist ein Gesetz, das 2002 vom britischen Parlament verabschiedet wurde. Es ersetzte teilweise den British Nationality Act 1981 und legte unter anderem die Umbenennung der Britischen… …   Deutsch Wikipedia

  • British Overseas citizen — In British nationality law, the status of British Overseas citizen (BOC) is one of several categories of British national. A British Overseas citizen does not have an automatic right to live in the United Kingdom.British Nationality Act 1981The… …   Wikipedia

  • British overseas citizens — those persons who are citizens of the UK and its colonies who are not either British citizens or British Dependent Territories citizens. This category encompasses those who did not, when the colony in which they lived became independent, acquire… …   Law dictionary

  • British overseas territory — noun Any of about 14 territories which are not part of the United Kingdom but come under its sovereignty …   Wiktionary

  • British National (Overseas) — British National (Overseas), commonly known as BN(O), is one of the major classes of British nationality under British nationality law. Holders of this nationality are Commonwealth citizens, but not British citizens. They are not granted right of …   Wikipedia

  • British nationality law and Hong Kong — British nationality law as it pertains to Hong Kong has been a unique situation ever since Hong Kong was created a British colony in 1842. With its beginning as a trading port to today s cosmopolitan international financial centre, the territory… …   Wikipedia

  • British subject — British Commonwealth citizenship …   Wikipedia

Share the article and excerpts

Direct link
Do a right-click on the link above
and select “Copy Link”

We are using cookies for the best presentation of our site. Continuing to use this site, you agree with this.