The tiny British island of Anguilla worries about Brexit
FEW Britons have heard of Anguilla. Yet the tiny Caribbean island, home to around 14,000 people, is proud to be a British overseas territory. In the 1960s its islanders successfully staged a bloodless rebellion to stop Britain granting them independence as part of St Kitts & Nevis, around 60 miles to the south. Today they style themselves as the only place to have “fought Britain to remain British” and loudly trumpet their links to London. But like other far-flung relics of empire, Anguillans often complain that they are overlooked. Since the Brexit vote their grumblings have grown louder.
The islanders say they rely heavily on the European Union and on nearby islands owned by France and the Netherlands. Anguilla’s airport does not have a runway long enough for big jets, which makes it dependent on the French and Dutch halves of neighbouring St Martin. Although tourism makes up a big chunk of Anguilla’s economy, nearly all visitors must first fly to the Dutch half of the island and then travel overland through the French half before catching a ferry for the last leg. Letters and parcels take the same route. Meanwhile, Anguillan patients pop back and forth to receive specialist treatment not available at home. And in 2016 a third of the island’s capital budget came from the EU’s development fund.
Blondel Cluff, Anguilla’s representative in London, worries that Brexit could disrupt all this. “We can’t survive without the French and the Dutch,” she claims. But Westminster has given Anguilla’s post-Brexit predicament little thought. Some of the civil servants her team encounters do not seem entirely sure where Anguilla is. Worried by this, they have set out their own proposals for a customs union and common travel area with St Martin.
The island was among those hit hard by Hurricane Irma in September 2017. It is still getting back to its feet. The storm badly damaged Anguilla’s sole hospital and its only secondary school. Around 90% of houses on the island were affected and all transport links were cut. Although Britain’s emergency response was swift, many complain that reconstruction funds were slow to arrive. Before the summer holidays, many classes were still taught in living rooms volunteered by locals.
The Anguillan government worries that, without proper planning, a Brexit-induced rupture could add to the island’s woes. Foreign Office diplomats, though, dismiss many of the islanders’ concerns, insisting that Anguilla is not as dependent on EU funding as it claims. Although the islanders say that trade with St Martin is vital to their economy, officials point out that supermarket shelves are in fact stacked with American imports.
Anguilla is not alone in its Brexit fears. Bermuda, the British Virgin Islands and the Cayman Islands all provide financial services to the EU (though some claim it would be no bad thing if these notoriously shady tax havens were cut out). The top destination for exports from the Falkland Islands is Spain, which has a taste for Argentine squid. It is not clear whether the Falklands will retain tariff-free access to this market once Britain leaves the EU. And Gibraltar, the only one of Britain’s 14 overseas territories that is technically part of the EU, worries that its close links to Spain may suffer.
Faced with such fears, the Foreign Office insists that Britain’s overseas territories will not be any worse off after Brexit than Britain will be. But for Anguillans, that is hardly reassuring.