How We Forgot About Anguilla

How We Forgot About Anguilla

By the time that Hurricane Irma crashed through the Caribbean, flattening entire towns, flooding others and leaving tens of thousands of people struggling to meet basic needs, it was the first category five hurricane to hit the Caribbean for nearly 100 years, and the strongest seen in the Atlantic since Wilma in 2005. The devastation the storm caused cannot be overstated. And among the worst affected of all the islands of the Caribbean was Anguilla: a tiny, picturesque island with turquoise-blue seas and white, sandy beaches.

Anguilla was a remote and impoverished speck of land in the Caribbean at the time that colonial rule came to an end. Not knowing exactly what to do with it, the British Government of the time decided to make it a part of Saint Kitts and Nevis, which were hundreds of miles away. It was a clumsy, ill-conceived decision - akin to making an island like Malta part of the UK because of a vague similarity in language and heritage - and two Anguillian Revolutions headed by Atlin Harrigan and Ronald Webster first restored independence from Saint Kits and Nevis and then restored British authority. I was one of the very first people to visit Anguilla following the rebellion and the return of British rule. At the time, a small unit of the Metropolitan Police had been sent out to 'govern' the island.

Those in Anguilla are fiercely proud of being British. And as with the Falklands and the other British Overseas Territories, we have a responsibility to provide protection and maintenance. Those who live on these islands are British, like me and perhaps you. And yet when Irma hit Anguilla in the first half of September, we were nowhere to be seen.

My son, Tim, and his mother, Chelle, were on the island. I watched as our government paid lip service to our collective responsibility. Our response to the crisis was slow. Long after King Willem-Alexander of the Netherlands and the French President, Emmanuel Macron, had flown to the Dutch-French island of St Martin, Boris Johnson, bowing to political pressure, landed on Anguilla and spent half an hour there before taking off again. There were no messages of condolence from the Royal Family for the people of Anguilla.

The entire infrastructure of Anguilla has been destroyed. The tourism industry on which it depends has been reduced to nothing. And yet Anguilla and the British Virgin Islands - 'too wealthy' to receive something from the British £13 billion aid budget - have been offered paltry sums, like giving someone a plaster for a broken back.

The ordeal isn't over. For those on Anguilla, there will be no homes, no power and no schools for months to come. Around £28 million of the £32 million we pledged in aid has already been used up, and the remaining money could not rebuild even a single school. The foreign secretary has pledged to match taxpayers' donations to the Red Cross. As Rupert Jones, the former attorney general for Anguilla, put it so succinctly, 'I hope that we have not arrived at government by crowd-funding.'

Those in that same government pushing for a hard Brexit might also want to think about the impact it will have on Britons overseas. Anguilla is entirely dependent on St Martin for just about everything, and when we leave the European Union, the hard border that is discussed so often in the context of continental Europe will also apply to overseas territories. Without a customs union between Anguilla and St Martin, we're likely to face the same problem that Northern Ireland the Republic of Ireland could face post-Brexit. The difference is that Anguilla will struggle far more than both.

The future of Anguilla - already ravaged by storms and soon likely to experience greater economic hardship too - does not look encouraging. Meanwhile, media attention has moved on, and as it does we will all forget about Anguilla - just as the government did when this small but proud British island desperately needed its help.


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