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Why Turning Our Back On Overseas Territories Could Mean We Forget Ourselves

02/03/2017 17:11

On a pleasant day, on the terrace of my Antigua home, the island of Montserrat nestles majestically on the horizon. Occasionally, you can see the Soufriere Hills volcano (previously considered dormant) spitting out hot molten lava.

I know Montserrat well; together with Sir George Martin, we built a state-of-the-art recording studio there. With no real port, and an airport servicing only the smallest planes, it was a logistical nightmare. Nevertheless, we built a studio which became hugely successful and attracted some of the most iconic names in rock and roll. Paul McCartney, The Rolling Stones, Eric Clapton and The Police all recorded there, to name but a few.

But then, nature struck. First, Hurricane Hugo destroyed the island's infrastructure, before the Soufriere Hills erupted violently only a couple of years later. Just as Vesuvius famously buried Pompeii, an island which once boasted a population of 12,000 now lay beneath piles of volcanic rubble. The only safe haven was a small village called Little Bay on the extreme western tip. Thanks to the efforts of Sir George and Lady Martin, Montserrat has recovered and repopulated with Little Bay as its focal point, growing from a few hundred inhabitants to a population of over 5,000.

22 years on, clouds are once again gathering over the island. Montserrat is one of many overseas possessions which requires the support and protection of the British government. The cost of such support has been seized upon by newspapers, convinced that the Department for International Development is frittering away a bloated budget. Montserratians are increasingly concerned that the growing pressure could cause essential funding to disappear overnight.

The media has rightly held Whitehall to account for squandering money which many feel could have been put to better use at home. I was among the many millions who were shocked to discover that £350 million from the public purse was wasted on a non-functioning airport on St. Helena, a tremendous feat of bureaucratic incompetence. Not to mention the ritualistic underage sex scandal on the Pitcairn Islands which provoked disgust and outrage across the globe.

But there are plenty of overseas territories which continue to rely heavily on our support. Once the gateway to the Mediterranean, Gibraltar could find itself cut out of key trade routes after Britain's exit from the European Union. Though equally a source of British pride, the Falkland Islands have become quite a burden on the British taxpayer. As we near the conclusion of four decades of oil exploration in the region, even discoveries of local oil and gas reserves - given the market's current deflated prices - would not guarantee their future.

Anguilla - which was reinstated as a British colony after its rebellion against the rule of the nearby St. Kitts Islands - along with Bermuda, the Cayman and British Virgin Islands, is one of a few overseas territories which can stand on its own two feet. Anguilla's healthy tourist industry and status as a popular tax haven could keep it afloat without the support of future British governments.

But it is the exception to the rule. So, if the Daily Mail have their way, the vast majority of funding for these far-flung gems could come to an end. To take this course of action would be to abandon hundreds of thousands of people around the world who, understandably, feel as British as we do.

This would be a testament of shame to Great Britain. Although hundreds and often thousands of miles apart, these territories are as much a part of this country as the home islands. To abandon them would be to betray our shared national values of generosity, inclusivity and resilience. These territories are the outposts upon which British pride and values are broadcast before the world.

The remains of what once was the British Empire are proving a greater burden than we could have ever imagined. But we should not turn our back on them.

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