Final report of Tristan's representation at UK Overseas Territories London Event.

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2017 UK Overseas Territories Joint Ministerial Council Week - 3

Report and photos from Tristan Government Representative Chris Carnegy

Tristan in the spotlight – summary of JMC week 2017

Picture the scene. Peers of the realm are debating the technicalities of imposing sanctions on rogue states post-Brexit. On the red leather benches in the House of Lords are arrayed some of the best-known names and some of the sharpest brains in Britain. One of them asks a question about how Overseas Territories will join in with sanctions. And the minister decides to preface his reply with a comment to illustrate the sheer variety of these far-flung places:

"I am not sure how many Ministers partake of lobster, but apparently Tristan da Cunha has the best lobster in the world."

Lord Ahmad of Wimbledon had Tristan on the tip of his tongue because he’d just come from the Joint Ministerial Council - an intense four days of meetings that give the Overseas Territories their annual platform in Westminster and Whitehall. Clearly Tristan had made an impact.

Tristan’s delegation for this year’s JMC consisted of me and my deputy Jim Kerr. Chief Islander Ian Lavarello can only travel to the UK in alternate years and this wasn’t one of those, so most meetings began with us conveying Ian’s greetings from afar. We weren’t sure how much attention Tristan would command this time, because devastating hurricanes had recently caused mayhem in three Caribbean OTs. In the event, although disaster recovery was a major theme, we were able to focus the politicians and the civil servants on our issues as well.

Jo Burden, FCO Head of Strategy for the UK Overseas Territories, flanked by Tristan Government UK Adviser Jim Kerr (left) and Chris Carnegy (right).

Brexit and its consequences is one of those issues. We met Hilary Benn, the chairman of the House of Commons committee on EU exit, and Brexit minister Robin Walker chaired an afternoon of discussions on the subject. Our two key messages were about ‘aid and trade’. Tristan is looking to the European Development Fund to help with a badly-needed refurbishment of St Mary’s School, which is letting in water and generally showing its age. We explained that Tristan pays its daily costs from the sustainable fishery, but will still need help with big projects after Brexit – so we want the EDF, or a replacement mechanism, to be there for the long term. And we’re anxious that Tristan’s fishery should be able to trade on the most advantageous terms, both with Europe and with promising new markets such as China, after the UK has left the EU.

The other main theme was sustainable economic development. Through the Foreign Office, Tristan has financial support for its planned ‘Blue Belt’ of marine protection. Scientific work around this may point the way to diversifying Tristan’s fisheries in a sustainable way. The Blue Belt is a UK priority, but the Tristan council controls the process – that was agreed thanks to our lobbying at the 2015 JMC. This year, we aimed to persuade the government that the UK money won’t just be spent on buying UK expertise, but will also result in extra equipment and skills on Tristan itself. We persuaded the minister of our case, and gained some helpful wording in the communiqué that records what was agreed.

Internet access is a big challenge on Tristan. We’re pretty sure that islanders experience the slowest connection on earth: this holds back education, training, medicine and economic development. So we lobbied for help to bridge the connectivity gap, at least until more competition brings down satellite prices. We got a sympathetic hearing.

Tristan aims to have good relationships across UK government, and it was great to have friendly exchanges with a number of departments. In the main meetings we contributed to discussions on health, climate change and fisheries. In private sessions, we were joined by the Governor Lisa Phillips for a wide-ranging conversation with Foreign Office minister Lord Ahmad, and we thanked DFID minister Lord Bates for the impressive new healthcare centre that opened this year.

Bermuda premier and current UKOTA President David Burt making a speech in which he undelined Tristan's urgent need for a better internet connection.

Chris Carnegy with John Tuckett,
Chief Executive of the Marine Management Organisation who are helping Tristan with the proposed 'Blue Belt'.

The formal events of JMC week end with a reception at the Foreign Office, and it was wonderful to see so many friends there. The Premier of Bermuda gave a rousing speech on behalf of all the OTs, and made specific reference to Tristan da Cunha’s ambition for a decent internet link. As the applause faded, we reflected once again on how one busy week can do wonders for the profile of a small island 6,000 miles from chilly London.

All three photos were taken on Wednesday 29th November at the reception held in the Foreign and Commonwealth Office to mark the end of JMC Week.