The UK’s partnership with the Overseas Territories

There are 14 Overseas Territories which retain a constitutional link with the UK. Most of the Territories are largely self-governing, each with its own constitution and its own government, which enacts local laws. Although the relationship is rooted in four centuries of shared history, the UK government’s relationship with its Territories today is a modern one, based on mutual benefits and responsibilities. The foundations of this relationship are partnership, shared values and the right of the people of each territory to choose to freely choose whether to remain a British Overseas Territory or to seek an alternative future.

The UK’s fundamental responsibility is to ensure the security and good governance of the Territories and their peoples. This requires us, amongst other things, to promote the political, economic, social and educational advancement of the people of the Territories, to ensure their just treatment and their protection against abuses, and to develop self-government and free political institutions. The UK government is ambitious for the Territories and wants to see their communities flourish with strong and sustainable local economies and world-class stewardship of their extraordinary natural environments. The Territories offer the UK a global presence and insight into diverse regions of the world, myriad economic and financial opportunities for a broad spectrum of British businesses, diverse natural and environmental resources, and the talent and diversity of their peoples. Although most Territories are economically self sufficient, their reasonable assistance needs are a first call on the UK’s international development budget.

The Territories are very diverse, with thousands of small islands, vast areas of ocean but also, in Antarctica, land 6 times the size of the United Kingdom. They include one of the world’s richest communities, in Bermuda; the most remote community, in Tristan da Cunha and one of the smallest, with only 54 people living on Pitcairn Island. The total population of the Territories is roughly a quarter of a million. Most Overseas Territories have a permanent resident population, with the exception of British Indian Ocean Territory, British Antarctic Territory, and South Georgia and South Sandwich Islands. The latter two have research stations. The Sovereign Base Areas on Cyprus have a resident population of Cypriot nationals.


The UK and the Overseas Territories governments outlined their relationship in the June 2012 White Paper, The Overseas Territories: security, success and sustainability, which set out the UK’s commitment to work with the Territories to address the challenges together.

The strategy focuses on three practical policy goals:

  • Strengthening the engagement and interaction between the UK and the Territories;
  • Working with Territories to strengthen good governance arrangements, public financial management and economic planning; and
  • Improving the quality and range of support available to the Territories.

This work is supported by the Overseas Territories Programme Fund.

Overseas Territories Joint Ministerial Council

The UK government and leaders of the Overseas Territories meet annually at the Overseas Territories Joint Ministerial Council (JMC) with a clear mandate to:

  • lead work to review and implement the strategy and commitments in the 2012 White Paper The Overseas Territories: Security, Success and Sustainability;
  • provide a forum for the exchange of views on political and constitutional issues between the governments of the Overseas Territories and the UK government;
  • promote the security and good governance of the Territories and their sustainable economic and social development; and
  • agree priorities, develop plans and review implementation.

At the conclusion of each JMC, a communiqué is issued detailing the priorities for the coming year. See communiqué issued at the most recent meeting on 1-4 December.

The six priority areas for action are:

Ensuring the defence, security and safety of the Overseas Territories

The people of the Overseas Territories have a right to safety, security and self-determination. They are free to maintain a constitutional link if this is their choice. The UK stands ready to protect the Territories from external threats, ensuring their self-determination. In particular, the UK supports the efforts of the peoples of Gibraltar and the Falklands Islands to determine whether to remain a British Overseas Territory. The UK also supports the Territories to protect themselves from international terrorism, organised crime and natural disasters. In 2014, the Ministry of Defence is playing a major role in supporting this objective including through the deployment of HMS Protector and HMS Argyll to provide reassurance and support to the Caribbean, South Atlantic and British Antarctic Territories, provide hurricane and disaster relief and take part in counter-narcotics operations and Hydrographical surveys.

Ensuring the success and resilience of Overseas Territories’ economies

The Territories’ economies offer exciting opportunities for investment and trade in areas such as tourism, financial services, agriculture and fishing. The UK and the Territories are working in partnership to support successful economic development, including through strengthened economic planning, management of public finances, promotion of free trade and tackling the global challenges of illicit finance and tax evasion. The UK encourages British businesses to pursue trade and investment opportunities in the Territories, including through the annual British Overseas Territories Investment Forum. The UK Government remains committed to meeting the reasonable assistance needs of Territories as a first call on the aid budget. The UK is prepared to invest British taxpayers’ money, for example with the St. Helena airport project, where we can see the real prospect of self-sufficiency being achieved in due course and the reduction or elimination of dependency on UK Aid.

Cherishing the Overseas Territories’ environments

The Territories play host to globally significant environmental assets, including an estimated 90% of the biodiversity found within the UK and the Territories combined e.g. the British Indian Ocean Territory contains about half of all the reefs in the Indian Ocean which remain in good condition. Each of the Territories depends on these assets in some way e.g. for fisheries or tourism. This unique environmental wealth brings responsibilities for its sustainable management. The UK government is working together with territory governments, non-governmental organisations, civil society groups and the private sector to preserve the Territories’ rich environmental heritage and address the challenges they face. The UK is committed to sustainable management and environmental stewardship of the uninhabited Territories such as South Georgia & the South Sandwich Islands. The Darwin Plus: Overseas Territories Environment and Climate Fund, launched in October 2012, has been providing £2million every year to help deliver long-term strategic outcomes outlined in the 2010 UK Overseas Territories Biodiversity Strategy.

Making government work better

The UK government believes that people living in the Territories have a right to expect the same high standards of governance as in the UK, including in the areas of human rights, rule of law and integrity in public life. We recognise that in an increasingly competitive global market it is important for governments to provide high quality services to businesses and individuals while meeting high standards of integrity, accountability and transparency. The Territories have proud traditions of democracy and respect for human rights. But small Territories face challenges in maintaining the capacity and skills necessary to regulate modern economies and meet public expectations for specialist services.

The UK is working closely with the Territories to strengthen good governance, public financial management and economic planning. The FCO commits £0.5 million per year to the Jubilee Fund - a resource to help public servants in the Overseas Territories and the UK benefit from one another’s expertise.

Helping communities in the Overseas Territories to be vibrant and flourishing

The Territories have a rich diversity of community life. Each Territory has a vision for its own development, its own priorities and makes its own choices about the role of government in building communities through decisions on education of children and care of older people, the sick and the disadvantaged. But most Territories face challenges as a result of their small scale and isolation. The UK government provides technical support and advice to the Territories, where requested, on community issues such as education, immigration, health, labour, culture and sport in order to help them improve services and meet international standards. The UK encourages Territory students to study in the UK, including through the Chevening Scholarships.

The UK is responsible for the external relations of the Territories but encourages Territories to strengthen their societies and economies by forming links with regional and international organisations and other countries. The Territories have a strong relationship with the European Union and the Commonwealth as a result of the UK’s membership. The UK encourages the Territories as appropriate to engage directly with other international bodies including the regional economic bodies such as CARICOM and the Organisation of Eastern Caribbean States. Where the UK represents the Territories, we will make every effort to ensure that the Territories are consulted and their interests defended. The UK expects the Territories to use attendance at international fora productively, use international assistance effectively and live up to their international commitments.

The 14 Overseas Territories are:

If you have a query about Gibraltar or any other Overseas Territory, please email

Case studies

  • A specialist team on board the Royal Navy’s ice patrol ship HMS Protector have been helping the local community in the British Virgin Islands with a range of longstanding projects including carrying out an extensive repainting project in St Georges School on Tortola, replacing the steps leading to the top of Sage Mountain and assisting with DIY on a retirement home on Jost van Dyke Island.
  • Restoring public finances in the Turks & Caicos Islands (TCI): The Turks and Caicos Islands were bankrupted in 2009 due to previous bad practices and corruption by TCI politicians, public servants and businesses, compounded by the global financial crisis and Hurricane Ike in 2008. The UK provided essential help to the TCI by providing a $260 million loan guarantee to keep the local government functioning.
  • Darwin Plus grant: Bermuda invasive lionfish initiative. Darwin’s support to the UK Overseas Territories is helping to control invasive lionfish in the western Atlantic Ocean.
  • The UK secures agreement for visa-free access to the EU Schengen area for British Overseas Territories Citizens.