Good afternoon to the wonderful people of the Virgin Islands, and the press core.
It is my pleasure to hold this press conference today to provide the public with an update on my recent visit to the United Kingdom (UK). I am very pleased to be joined my Deputy Premier and Minister for Financial Services, Labour and Trade Hon. Lorna Smith. I will make an initial statement and then Hon. Smith will provide an update on financial services and other matters.
Ladies and gentleman, nearly two weeks ago I travelled to the UK where I attended the coronation of His Majesty King Charles III on behalf of the people of the Virgin Islands. The King’s representative here in the Territory, His Excellency Governor John J. Rankin CMG, also attended as is our duty in our respective capacities. His Majesty is aware of the well wishes of the people of the Virgin Islands as he continues his royal duties as Head of State.
Following the coronation, I attended the Joint Ministerial Council (JMC) between UK Ministers and Overseas Territories (OT) Leaders hosted by OT Minister the Rt. Hon. Lord Goldsmith. The discussions were very constructive and aimed at strengthening UK Government support for the Territories in areas such as security, climate change response, environmental protection, maritime management, economic resilience and health. We also discussed the importance of making the modern partnership between the UK and OTs work better for all concerned.
I can say with conviction that Lord Goldsmith is genuinely committed to the OTs and is doing his level best to get them additional support.
The Foreign Secretary Rt. Hon. James Cleverly also joined us at the JMC and he reiterated his deep commitment to the OTs and his own backing for more UK Government assistance to support the Territories in their growth and development.
Prime Minister Rt. Hon. Rishi Sunak’s approval of Ministerial leads in each UK Government ministry to handle OT matters is very welcome and very positive. This will promote UK Government commitment to the OTs beyond the Foreign, Commonwealth and Development Office (FCDO), which is an important shift in approach and a critical step in renewing the modern partnership.
In terms of BVI-UK relations, I am pleased that our UK partners support our plans to transition the Virgin Islands to a more diversified, tourism led, investment driven low carbon economy that delivers business and job opportunities for our people. In the very near future my administration will engage the relevant UK Government departments on technical assistance to help advance this transition, as well as tap the UK’s existing support schemes to unlock investment into the Territory’s economy.
I am also very pleased that at the JMC there was UK support for my Administration’s push for infrastructure development through targeted borrowing. The UK side understands our economic needs and climate vulnerability which has to be addressed through public sector investment in resilience. In due course the Ministry of Finance will have technical discussions on loans with UK counterparts once the Ministry has prepared a borrowing package to fund our planned Public Infrastructure Improvement Programme.
Notably, I had a bilateral meeting with the Lord Goldsmith, which was also attended by the Deputy Premier. We discussed governance reform, among other things. We agreed that now is the time to reenergise the reform process and to swiftly move forward implementation of the remaining elements of the COI recommendations and other reforms.
Governor Rankin and I will be discussing any additional areas where an extension or timeline revision may is required. These will be agreed in short order.
In terms of the review reviews that were laid before the House of Assembly last month, my Government colleagues and I will soon consider the recommendations of those reviews and the appropriate next steps to be taken in terms of legislative action and other measures. I want to reassure the public that you will have an opportunity to give input, which is essential for democracy and good governance.
Lastly, while in London I was able to engage UK Parliamentarians. I met the Chair of the BVI All Party Parliamentary Group Mr. James Sunderland MP with whom I discussed my Administration’s priorities, reform, and progress on building a new modern partnership between the Virgin Islands and UK.
I was also a panelist at an Overseas Territories Conference in the UK Parliament where I shared with parliamentarians what it is like to govern in the Territories and the key issues of interest and concern to us. The conference preceded the back-bench debate on the Overseas Territories that I know many persons here in the Territory watched last week online. As you can see, engagement with UK Parliamentarians is critical to ensure they properly understand our challenges and are clear on our perspective as partners in this relationship.
At the UK Parliament I also had the distinct pleasure of being present for the unveiling of a new stained glass window at the Speaker’s House that depicts the British Virgin Islands heraldic shield and those of the 15 other OTs and Crown Dependencies that are linked to the UK. The stained glass window will remind visitors at Speaker’s House of the UK’s relationship with these places. It was commissioned by the Speaker of the House of Commons Sir Lindsay Hoyle. I pay tribute to him as a champion of the Overseas Territories.
Ladies and gentleman, there is one other aspect of my visit to the UK pertaining to financial services, but the Deputy Premier in her capacity as Financial Services Minister will mention this in her statement.
My visit to the UK was an overall success and critical to my Administration’s policy of stability and engagement with the UK. I would like to thank my delegation for their support, who included:
Deputy Premier Hon. Lorna Smith, Financial Secretary Mr. Jeremiah Frett, Permanent Secretary Mrs. Carolyn Stoutt-Igwe, Special Envoy of the Premier Mr. Benito Wheatley, BVI London Office Director Ms. Tracy Bradshaw, Deputy Director of the International Affairs Secretariat Ms. Dwynel Davis, Managing Director of the BVI Financial Services Commission Mr. Kenneth Baker and Director of Policy and Research at BVI Financial Services Commission, Mr. Cherno Jallow. I would also like to thank the staff of the BVI London Office for all their support.
Before I conclude, I want to briefly update on ministerial reorganisation. After careful consideration and internal consultations, my Administration has made an adjustment to the initial Ministerial portfolios announced after the General Election. I am pleased to report that we have established the Ministry of Environment, Natural Resources and Climate Change as a ministry in its own right, that stands separately from the Premier’s Office. I will serve as Minister over this portfolio.
This demonstrates the importance we assign to the environment and all the critical issues involved in its preservation and sustainable use, as well as the existential threat of climate change. I am looking forward to the Ministry’s establishment of a Department of Environment and Climate Change to respond to these needs.
With that I will conclude my statement and turn over to the Deputy Premier.
I thank you.