07 August, 2007


Full Internal Self-government versus the Right to Self-determination. A few days ago, one of our readers asked a simple, straight-forward question. Could someone please explain what exactly was the difference between “full internal self-government” and the “right to self-determination”? I had been a speaker, with other lawyers, on the radio programme, “Territories Talk”. The other lawyers and I had consistently confused the two expressions. What exactly did they mean? I had hoped that someone more learned than me would have replied to the reader, and relieved him of his torment. Since none of the experts have ventured an explanation, I will have a go.

The right to self-determination is a right that every country enjoys. It is entrenched in United Nations’ conventions. There is no dispute about it. Even so reactionary a body as the British Foreign and Commonwealth Office would not deny us that right. They have repeatedly said to us that they will never stand in our way if we wish to become an independent nation. If we in Anguilla determine that we wish to remain a Colony, that is our right. We will have determined that status for ourselves. If we decide that we wish to become an independent nation, that is our right. We are guaranteed the right to decide that for ourselves. Whichever the administering power, it does not have the legal right or the authority to prevent us from seeking our full independence. So far, so good.

Suppose that we in Anguilla do not at this time want to become an independent nation? Suppose that at the same time we are not happy with the British Foreign Office continuing to micro-manage our local affairs? Suppose that we desire to take on more responsibilities of government than we did before. Are we obliged for ever to continue under a regime whereby the FCO and its delegate, the Governor, decides the smallest detail of government? Or, should we be encouraged increasingly to manage our own affairs? Is there any principle that prevents us from aspiring increasingly to manage our own affairs? That is more problematic than the right to self-determination. Increasing self-government is something that has, traditionally, been the subject of many a battle. This is something that always has to be fought for. It is not a given, not a right. It is an evolutionary state. We grow in self-government. We earn self-government. It does not happen over-night. It happens gradually. You recognise it by its feel and its touch, not by the technicalities of a legal document. Eventually, a colonial territory might earn the right to claim to be able to handle full internal self-government. Even the UN as far back as 1995 has confirmed that we have a right to internal self-government.

Full internal self-government is what our Chief Minister now says is Anguilla’s objective in discussions with the British. Self-government is not a matter of our politicians being in charge of everything. It exists when Anguillian institutions and individuals take responsibility for Anguilla’s affairs. This would include, where appropriate, the political directorate. Ministers do not have to have the final say for there to be full internal self-government. There have to be checks and balances. There are other local institutions, boards, committees, and commissions besides Ministers. The concept is not even about whether it is a British or a local who is officially responsible for an area of government. It is about the reality of government. The British Constitution may say that the Queen can appoint whomsoever she wishes as the British Prime Minister. The reality is that the leader of the party which in a general election wins the most seats is automatically entitled to be appointed. The Constitution can continue to say that the Queen can appoint the Prime Minister. The truth is that the people do so by their vote. She is not free to appoint whomsoever she wishes, regardless of the Constitutional provision. It is the same with the Anguilla Constitution. It can continue to say that the Governor is in charge of an area of government. So long as local institutions and individuals actually implement local policy and principles, then there is full internal self-government.

There is no connection between the two separate concepts of the right to self determination as guaranteed by the UN Convention and the state of full internal self-government. The one is a Convention right, the other is a state of affairs. In a young Constitution such as ours, we are justified in requiring that the details of government are spelled out to a degree not normal for the British. A wink and a nod are not sufficient. We are entitled to demand that our Constitution reflects in its language the peoples’ desire for increased self-determination. That is most appropriate if unnecessary disputes and disagreements are to be avoided in the future.

Do I personally believe we are ready for full internal self-government? I have my reservations. All such reservations can be overcome by inserting a level of checks and balances that will ensure that childish and petulant instincts do not prevail. Vindictive government is not limited to Hubert Hughes’ last regime! It is found in all immature governments. I remind my readers that self-government of any kind in Anguilla goes back only forty years, to the Anguilla Revolution of 1967. We have had no time to construct a system of balances and checks and good governance.

A greater concern is that our Government appears to have chosen this time to seek full internal self-government not because of any matter of principle. It has been rattled by the Concerned Citizens Group. This is but an example of what The Hon Edison Baird so accurately calls “ad-hoc planning”!

An even greater concern is that both “full internal self-government” and our “right to self-determination” can be used as mere empty political slogans. The expressions can amount to little more than smoke and mirrors in the wrong hands. The Constitutional and Electoral Reform Commission in its August 2006 Report managed to come up with a solid and extensive body of recommendations for full internal self-government as proposed by the people themselves and without once using any slogan. Now we are told that we have to go back to the drawing board and start thinking of “full internal self-government”!

Excuse me for being dubious about the whole exercise!


  1. If there is no dispute about our right to self determination, why do so many opposition politicians (and political hopefuls posing as simple patriots) claim the British are trying to prevent our independence, and their claims to the contrary are lies?

  2. Whether the British are trying to prevent/deny our independence or subtly discourage our dependence/independence, it is our prerogative to choose, and choose we will. Your vote for/against or your no vote will be considered a vote.
    The choices are, unless I am mistaken, the following :-
    1) REMAIN a colony/BOT/Department
    2) Associate with Britain
    3) Associate with another Country or goup of Countries
    4) a}Independence after a proscribed time period
    4) b}Independence after a set of proscribed social, infrstructural, governmental, legislative BENCHMARKS are reached.[ THESE BENCH MAKS TO GUIDED BY OUR belonger MEMBERS OF THE BAR but selected by the voting public, through a referendum, listing each benchmark].

    Without doubt I would choose 4b. This would provide future generations an opportunity to determine their direction,after having exprienced the position of acquired and in action FULL INTERNAL SELF GOVERNMENT.

  3. It is misleading and deceptive for selfish political opportunists to continue insisting that associated status is a real option for Anguilla. It is an option acceptable to the United Nations. So is my marrying some famous movie star, but unless she agrees to the marriage, I'm just showing off and deceiving those around me. The UK has clearly and repeatedly stated that associated statehood is not an option. What other country is looking for new colonies to support? China? Iran? Zimbabwe? Jamaica? How about St. Kitts? No, once was enough. This would be laughable if it weren't so annoying.

    What is this, "Talk Yer Mind," where we get to compete with each other to see who can say the most stupidness? I thought this was a serious blog.

  4. The whole point about self determination is that it is nothing to do with independence. It is about deciding for ourselves what we want for our political future. It is self determination for us to decide that we do not want independence. The only problem is if the FCO tries to tell us what sort of government we ought to have. If the FCO forces us into independenct that is not self determination.

  5. 1) I left room for errors in my thoughts, to be corrected. I will note the barb but not take the bait on Association.
    2) what the UK will /will nt accept is not the pertinent question.What we are prepared to stand behind is the issue, in the quest for our Self-determined path.
    3)No constructive analysis or critique of option 4b was offered. You are in agreement/disagreement with its direction? Where ought I redirect my conditions.
    Caribbean Man

  6. All the benchmarks in Option 4b are proscribed? Lod, we better off being led by criminals, dummies and sheep than educated fools.

    You'll have to excuse me, it's time for my daily shouting at the wind.

  7. The Britishcannot say that associated status is not an option. They are only trying to fool the uninformed.

    Or maybe, I am wrong. The British are still tourtouring prisoners..right?

    So they do not have to obey the rules of the united nations when it does not suit their purpose.

    What a bunch of hypocrites!!!

    Is this site sensored?

  8. The British most certainly CAN say associated status is not an option. In fact, they have done exactly that, and they don't sound like they're joking. What is your basis for saying they can't do this?

    The British do not torture prisoners, although there are indications that Anguillians have done so in the recent past.

  9. "Proscribe ...benchmarks".
    Forgive me for the "intended" maloprop. My innate nature for sarcasm had surfaced.

    The intended message being :- these bench marks are so basic and fundamental, that they not having been put in place, could only have been intentional. In addition, the powers that be and have been, whilst calling for good governance, have placed obstacles and red herrings in the path of the implementation of the said benchmarks.
    Again my apologies.
    Caribbean Man

  10. I've been reading the August 2006 Report of the Constitutional and Electoral Reform Commission.
    Would enactment of provision 173. "British Nationality Acts," conflict in any way with Anguillians' right to British citizenship?

    173. British Nationality Acts. By far the great majority of persons consulted
    desire that the BNA provisions be severed from the Belonger provisions of
    our Constitution, and the Commission so recommends. (p. 80)


    20 By the British Overseas Territories Act 2002, c 8 of 2002 British Citizenship was conferred on
    all British Overseas Territories Citizens so that Anguillians enjoy both types of British citizenship. (footnote on p. 60)

  11. So are you saying that:

    1. Anguilla already has the right to self-determination?

    2."Full internal self government" is something that cannot be granted by the British (or any other) government because it is created through the laws and practices in Anguilla?

    If so, it sounds like it is the content of the Anguillian constitution/laws and the ways that citizens operate on a day-to-day basis that determine whether Anguilla is self-governing. And that this would be true no matter what the relationship to the British or other nations.

    3. And if that is true, Anguilla's status of colony/associate/independent nation is more a matter of how Anguillians want to perceive and represent themselves to the world (rather than a determinant of the way citizens live their lives)?

    Am I mistaken? What am I missing?

  12. On the question above about citizenship, no, the severing of citizenship from belongership would not affect our citizenship. The view of the majority of persons who made representations to the Commission on the subject was that citizenship should remain, but that it should not be connected to the concept of who was an Anguillian. Anguillians over the centuries have had to take out many citizenships. What the Commission accepted was that citizenship should not be connected in any way to Anguillianness.


  13. On the question above about full internal self-government, yes, the British have to agree to change the Constitution to give us the requisite guarantees, conditions, and checks and balances. In my view, real political, social and economic independence is a state of mind more than a political gimmick like "achieving independence." Which of us would want to be a member of a failed State like St Vincent or Dominica? The people of those islands are still enslaved by their poverty and abject dependence for survival on others. The employers, whether government or private, still exploit the people mercilessly. In Anguilla, even though a political colony of Britain, our people are liberated by our economic well-being, high standard of education, and independence of thought. What we need now are constitutional provisions to entrench those achievements.



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