Election Manifestos 2024: Tories to Impose Financial Transparency on the BOTs

This article identifies what the main UK wide political parties are saying about the British Overseas Territories in their 2024 manifestos. One of the problems with this is that unless the territories are specifically mentioned it is not always clear whether a policy announced will affect them.


Craig Brewin

6/20/20245 min read

This article identifies what the main UK wide political parties are saying about the British Overseas Territories in their 2024 manifestos. One of the problems with this is that unless the territories are specifically mentioned it is not always clear whether a policy announced will affect them. For example, the Conservative manifesto includes the words, “sex”, “sexual” or “sexuality” 32 times, which is four times as often as Labour and the Liberal Democrats. This includes emphasising the Conservatives’ commitment to same-sex marriage and defending those persecuted overseas for their sexuality. Does this signal an intervention in, for example, the British Virgin Islands where the issue of rights for same-sex couples is very much a live issue? One suspects not given their refusal to do so in the past. Constitutionally, the UK can legislate for the BOTs but rarely does.

Financial Transparency

However, a change may be coming. The Conservatives include more explicit statements about the BOTs in their manifesto than the other parties put together. The big surprise is the following statement: “We will intensify our fight to stop money laundering and dirty money and ensure all British Overseas Territories and Crown Dependencies adopt open registers of beneficial ownership.” But what does the word “ensure” mean here? It is not explicitly “impose”, but it would be reasonable to assume that is the intent. An attempt by backbench MPs to do the same five years ago led to protests in the BVI, and one of the MPs behind the campaign for imposition was Andrew Mitchell, who became Deputy Foreign Secretary under Lord Cameron. They know what they are saying here and the BOTs won’t like it.

Labour is a little vaguer on the issue. Its manifesto says “Labour will also work with our allies and international financial centres to tackle corruption and money laundering, including in Britain, Crown Dependencies, and in British Overseas Territories”. The push for an Order in Council in 2019 to impose registers of beneficial ownership had all party support, so it could be that the intent behind this wording is the same as the intent behind that of the Conservative Party. It could be an example of Labour’s “Ming Vase Strategy” in practice, or deliberate ambiguity. People in the Caribbean Overseas Territories will be watching this more than anything else.


The Tories say “Our highest priority remains protecting the British homeland, Crown dependencies and Overseas Territories from risks and threats. As part of that, we continue to ensure the democratic rights of people in Gibraltar, the Falklands and all our Overseas Territories are protected.” The Labour manifesto says "defending our security also means protecting the British Overseas Territories and Crown Dependencies, including the Falklands and Gibraltar. Labour will always defend their sovereignty and right to self-determination.” There is not much difference there and neither mention the British Indian Ocean Territory, which is due to be handed over to Mauritius later this year. Negotiations over sovereignty began under Liz Truss’s premiership and are ongoing. Labour did include BIOT in its 2019 manifesto, and included a commitment to allow Chagossians to return, but that is not there this year. There is no mention of the military base on Diego Garcia either, which forms party of the territory.

International Law

Liz Truss endorsed the final dismantling of the British Indian Ocean Territory (parts were handed back to Seychelles in the 1970s) following a series on legal judgements, the latest being a mandatory ruling by the International Tribunal of the Law of the Sea. This law is also important to the Reform UK proposals to “pick up illegal migrants out of boats and take them back to France”. This has already been considered by the current Government and it is a complex issue. France has said it will not accept anyone that is a UK responsibility under the Law of the Sea, and that includes people who the UK has a legal duty to rescue.

Reform UK has said it will withdraw from the European Convention on Human Rights, but that does not, however, change the UK’s obligations under ITLOS. But it does have an impact on the Overseas Territories because the ECHR has been enshrined in BOT constitutions since 2010. There is an issue about how cases can be brought under it but it does apply, and has been crucial to LGBT+ campaigners in Bermuda and Cayman Islands.

The idea of processing asylum seekers in BOTs was first raised within the Conservative Party because they are covered by the ECHR, and Reform UK are now saying they will process asylum seekers overseas “where necessary”. A previous version of their manifesto (or “contract” as they call it) said this would be in the overseas territories, but that is no longer specifically stated. The aim of Conservative’s Rwanda scheme was to settle some asylum seekers abroad. What happens to them under the Reform UK scheme isn’t clear.

Overseas Aid

The Conservative Manifesto states “We will sign partnership agreements with each of the British Overseas Territories, ensuring we are working together to deliver for their residents and identifying areas for greater cooperation on defence, trade and investment.” This is a proposal within the new FCDO strategy for the BOTs and will probably continue regardless of the election outcome. One would expect them to cover Financial Transparency if an Order in Council is to be avoided.

Labour says “we will deliver value for money for the British taxpayer by working closely with the Independent Commission for Aid Impact to apply the highest standards to our aid spend – bringing in robust measures of development effectiveness, transparency, and scrutiny.” The ICAI covers aid provided to British Overseas Territories for infrastructure development, and reports have been published covering these, most comprehensively on Montserrat, but not for several years now.

The Liberal Democrats say they will break up the FCDO and recreate a new International Development Department to facilitate a reprioritisation of overseas aid. The Greens are proposing a “significant increase to the overseas aid budget.”

The Environment

The Conservatives say they will be “building on the success of the Blue Belt programme which protects an area of ocean the size of India. We will consult UK overseas territories on opportunities to expand it further.” Of course, the Blue Belt includes the British Indian Ocean Territory and commercial exploitation of the ocean is included in the negotiations. “Elected Greens will ensure that all British domestic and overseas territorial waters offer the highest protection to marine mammals, sea birds and marine life”.

Citizenship and Voting

The Liberal Democrats say they will be “continuing to fight for British National (Overseas) passport holders’ rights by closing gaps in the BNO visa scheme” and “extending BNO integration funding for Hong Kongers in the UK for the duration of the Parliament.” They also propose the creation of overseas constituencies for the UK parliament, for which UK citizens, eligible to vote in in UK elections, will be able to elect their own MP. How that would work in practice hasn’t been explained. A constituency for Britons in France might be interesting, but what about British people living in Anguilla? What constituency would that be part of? There is a reverse proposal often advocated in the BOTs, whereby BOT citizens living in the UK can vote in their own home territory, but the practicalities of that are just as difficult.

Slavery and Imperialism

Most of the proposals listed above are relatively uncontentious, and even if a proposal is only made by one party it doesn’t necessarily mean it would be opposed by another. But Manifesto writing is an insight into what politicians talk about among themselves. The big exception this time around is the Reform UK policy on teaching the history of slavery and imperialism. Modern slavery is a modern issue and the Conservative and the Liberal Democrat manifestos include a commitment to tackle it. But that is not Reform’s priority and trans-Atlantic slavery is important to the history of many of the BOTs.

Reform UK says “any teaching about a period or example of British or European imperialism or slavery must be paired with the teaching of a non-European occurrence of the same to ensure balance.” But is there an equivalent to the British Empire and trans-Atlantic slavery? Most Commonwealth countries gained independence within the memory of many people still living and, in the Caribbean, Emancipation Day is a big cultural event. The idea that people of the overseas territories should accept their history being diluted by state sanctioned whataboutery in the UK would not be popular.