“Belongership” and its equivalents are wrong,” it is emphatically stated in a startling paper from the House of Commons Foreign Affairs Committee. The paper says the belongership status (known as Falklands Status in the Falklands) as enshrined in the constitutions of a number of British Overseas Territories, including the Falklands, denies legally-resident British Overseas Territory and UK citizens the right to vote and to hold elected office.
The authors of the paper say this situation “elevates one group of British people over another and risks undermining the ties that bind the UK and the OTs together in one global British family.”
MLA Teslyn Barkman attended the meetings that led to the paper, however it appears they dismissed statements that she and other BOT representatives made against the idea. MLA Barkman is reported as having said: ‘There is a certain importance in enshrining what it is to be a Falkland Islander, so we have to put these gates up somewhere in terms of voting or being able to buy land or sell it on.”
Asked to comment on Thursday she said: “I don’t agree it [belongership] is a point of friction between us and the UK as they have described.
“There is a clear pathway to becoming a status holder if you were not born in the Falklands, which is enshrined in the Falkland Islands constitution. “Submitted in the evidence was a strong case for why this is not a simple policy decision.
“This included making reference to our needs to identify as a people, particularly relevant when faced with threats to our right of self determination; and recognizing that priorities to keep small communities like ours prosperous and secure are specific and distinct.
“We must be firm in relaying that we have a clear pathway for voting eligibility, and that governance in domestic affairs like immigration, remain our own Governments’ concern.”
Asked for an official response as FIG Chair MLA Mark Pollard said: “The Falkland Islands Government note the publication of the report and is now in the process of studying the contents. We will provide our response in due course, once we have been able to scrutinize it in detail.”
Minister defends BOT’s right to decide
The Minister of State for the Commonwealth the UN and FCO Tariq Ahmad also stood up for the Territories’ right to rule on the matter of belongership. The paper quoted him as saying the OTs “feel very strongly about the issue” and that it is “an issue that they should be ruling on”. He added that he did not intend to intervene.
In December 2018 the Minister also said members of BOTS should not lose their right to vote in Britain and when Foreign Affairs (FA) Committee Chair Tom Tugendhat challenged that, saying “...it just seems what is sauce for the goose,” the Minister commented: “Just because there is a wrong on one side, you don’t create a wrong on the other side to try and correct it.”
A special privilege
Penguin News canvassed some local opinions. Business owner Lewis Clifton felt the right to vote in a Falkland Islands general election, “should not be undermined by fanciful whims of transient or pass-through flippant commentary. Citizenship, as in any democracy, is earned. The qualification to vote is earned by a combination of several attributes, not least proven time-served status, coupled with a strong, determined and profound commitment to reach out and earn the title of ‘belonger’.”
He felt that title was a, “special, once in a life, privilege. Belongers are citizens who are rooted, by generations of family, or others of recent free-will choice, who are welcomed permanently into the societal fabric of the Falkland Islands. The entitlement to vote should not, and must not be belittled, by qualification reduction, merely to satisfy cloudy and ill thought through future population demographics with un-assured consequence.”
Leaves OT vulnerable
Fishing Company manager Janet Robertson commented that, “just like any other country in the world, the Falklands grants electoral status to those who qualify as national citizens of the country, obtained either through birth right or through an application process which recognizes that long-term residents have adopted the political and cultural identity of the country in which they live.
Military personnel are not even subject to tax status in the Islands and therefore should not qualify as being ordinarily resident in the Islands - this applies to short-term contractors too.”
She added that by the very nature of being an overseas territory, “British and OT citizenship rules recognize that OT citizens share the political and cultural identity of the United Kingdom, whereas the reverse is not true and granting electoral status to any British citizen who happens to be residing temporarily in an OT leaves that territory vulnerable to having its political environment determined by voters who do not have knowledge and understanding of the specific issues of the day, nor long-term investment in the future of the territory.”
A firm no
Former Member of Legislative Assembly Mike Summers said: “My answer is a very firm no. The right to vote should remain available only to those who have chosen to join the community on a permanent basis by seeking status. It most certainly cannot include MoD personnel who are here for only short periods of time, are not subject to taxation or FI immigration control and in most cases would not understand the issues.”
He said: “The other part of the recommendations which appear to propose unlimited and unrestricted access to the Islands for all British citizens would cause huge problems here in a number of areas including housing, education, health and social services.”
Lose Falkland identity
Business owner Dr Andrea Clausen was emphatically not happy with the news. She said: “I’m not sure about land purchase but pretty sure on voting you can’t turn up in UK and just start voting, you have to have been resident for x amount of time.”
She added: “Regardless of this fact we are 3,000 they are 60 plus million, the impact of allowing the above here would have a significant impact to such a degree that the people who have properly made their home here are outvoted by a minority of people who many have no long-term interest in the future of the Falklands. I do think we need to be more welcoming and allow immigrants the opportunity to fast track to land ownership and PRP but to just take all controls away - the Falklands could lose its identity very quickly.”
She added: “There have to be some controls but pragmatically and welcoming - it’s a fine line.” (Penguin News).-