Independence from Britain back on the table in Bermuda

Wednesday, July 10, 2019

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HAMILTON, Bermuda (CMC) — Backbenchers from the ruling Progressive Labour Party (PLP) have called for a fresh discussion on independence, 24 years after voters overwhelmingly rejected cutting ties with Britain in a referendum.

Walton Brown, a former cabinet minister, said the need for a debate had become more important because the British Government had forced social and financial policies on Bermuda.

“Since 1999, we have had the UK Government devolving power back to itself, and we have had a series of challenges in that regard,” he told parliament.

“We have the UK Government putting pressure on us to do things in our social policies that we have resisted. We have had pressure in terms of financial disclosure that we are resisting and need to continue to resist. We have to fight this onslaught of the UK Government as much as we can. It is untoward, it is inappropriate, and it is highly offensive — and we need to come together to address this issue.

“I know there is a lot of fear out there just to raise the topic itself, but we should have no fear of such an important issue,” Brown said, adding: “We should take the bull by the horns and address the issue forthrightly”.

Another government legislator, Rolfe Commissiong, said the subject of independence was far from dead, adding “in many ways it's maybe even more relevant now for due consideration than it has been for the last one or two decades”.

“It may indeed be time for that topic to come back upon the national stage for a new generation to join us old folks in examining the issue,” Commissiong said, noting that independence would create a “truly national identity” and “real citizenship” for Bermuda.

The PLP, which ruled the island from 1998 until 2012 and which has been in power since 2017 after unseating the One Bermuda Alliance, has long supported independence.

Last year, Dame Jennifer Smith, who led the PLP to a historic general election victory in 1998 after 30 years of rule by the now-defunct United Bermuda Party (UBP), called for the ruling party to remain focused on independence from Britain.

Speaking at a PLP gala, she said members must remember what their predecessors fought for, adding “they had a vision that one day Bermuda would be an independent country”.

“Our ancestors dreamt it would be an independent country and put it in our constitution so we could not and would not forget,” she said.

Sir John Swan, who led the UBP for 13 years from 1982, pushed for independence in the 1995 referendum, but almost 75 per cent of voters opted for the status quo.

His cause was not helped by the PLP's then leader, Frederick Wade, urging his supporters to boycott the referendum, arguing that the PLP wanted independence only on its terms.

There has been little thirst for independence among voters in the intervening years, with opinion polls repeatedly rejecting it.

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