British overseas territories

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Location of the British Overseas Territories

The British Overseas Territories ( English British Overseas Territories ) 14 (as of 2010) areas that are not part of the United Kingdom of Great Britain and Northern Ireland are, but meanwhile sovereignty are. Most of them are outside Europe .

The name "British Overseas Territories" was introduced by the British Overseas Territories Act 2002 and replaced the old name "British Dependent Territories" which had been established by the British Nationality Act 1981 . Before this, the areas were called colonies or crown colonies .

The Channel Islands (with the bailiffs of Jersey and Guernsey ) and the Isle of Man are not part of the British overseas territories, but have the special status of crown possession . As such, they are headed by the British monarch but are not subordinate to the United Kingdom. What they have in common with the overseas territories, however, is that, like some of them, they function as tax havens .

In the historical context, crown colonies are to be distinguished from protectorates , which were under British control but were formally independent states (see the article British colonies and protectorates ).


Monument in honor of Victoria in Victoria Park in Hong Kong

The original English possessions in the New World were colonies in the traditional sense, that is, they were settlements of English subjects in lands that were previously outside the dominion of the Crown. The first of these settlements was Newfoundland , where English fishermen regularly set up seasonal camps in the 16th century.

With the first successful permanent colony in "Virginia" (a name that was then valid for all of North America ), the story of the later so-called "old Empire" began. In 1609 a second colony was established in Bermuda , which today - after the loss of the American colonies in 1783 - is the oldest surviving British colony.

As the British Empire grew from the early 18th century to its peak in the 1920s, Britain colonized a quarter of the earth's land area, including areas of large indigenous populations in Asia and Africa for economic and strategic reasons rather than for purposes the settlement were kept. In the late 19th century, the larger settler colonies - Canada , Australia , New Zealand, and South Africa - gained greater degrees of independence. In the 1920s they were given Dominions status and almost complete legislative independence through the Westminster Statute (1931) . After World War II , the empire gradually transformed into the Commonwealth of Nations , and most of the British colonies in Africa, Asia and the Caribbean gained independence. Some colonies became Commonwealth Realms with the British monarch as head of state , while others became republics but recognized the British monarch as head of the Commonwealth .

The United Kingdom lost its last mainland colonies in the 1980s when Southern Rhodesia (now Zimbabwe ) in Africa gained independence in 1980 and British Honduras (now Belize ) in Central America in 1981 . The last remaining important colony was Hong Kong with over 5 million inhabitants. In contrast to the other areas, most of Hong Kong was leased from China to the United Kingdom for 99 years. The lease expired in 1997. The United Kingdom negotiated the Sino-British Joint Declaration , according to which the whole of Hong Kong became a Special Administrative Region in 1997 with a guarantee of the continuation of the capitalist economic system and the way of life accustomed to British rule.

After the return of Hong Kong, the remaining colonial possessions are mostly small island areas with low populations as well as the uninhabited British Antarctic Territory . Some of the reasons why these territories did not gain independence include:

  • the lack of desire in the population for independence,
  • the small population, which makes success as a sovereign state very difficult,
  • reliance on UK economic aid,
  • the lack of permanent population in the area, which is used for scientific or military purposes,
  • the need for a British military presence to protect against hostile neighbors,
  • the lack of economic or political justification for independence.

The reason given in the fourth position in this list only applies to a limited extent to the British Indian Ocean Territory , as the British government forcibly relocated the population there from 1966 onwards . See Chagossians .

In 2002, the UK Parliament passed the British Overseas Territories Act 2002 , designating the areas dependent on Great Britain as "Overseas Territories" and restoring full British citizenship to their citizens, with the exception of those who are solely on the sovereign military bases Cyprus are connected.

The term colony implies the acquisition of land by a larger state through settlement, regardless of whether there is a native population on the territory or it was previously uninhabited. Little by little, most of the British Empire's possessions came to be known, including those where the vast majority of the population consisted of (usually conquered) native peoples. When the larger settler colonies in the empire achieved the status of dominions and thus at least ostensibly equal rights with the United Kingdom (or, in the case of the Thirteen Colonies of North America, complete independence), the term was increasingly applied to the areas with conquered populations in the 20th century to those with mainly European settlers, as the word actually implied.

Most of the remaining overseas territories are heirs of the British Empire (in English : Old (British) Empire ). Most of them are therefore in the New World or in the Atlantic . They are all colonies in the true sense of the word, that is, their populations are the result of settlement and the areas were either previously uninhabited (Bermuda) or the native population was wiped out by European invaders ( Turks & Caicos ). Some also experienced significant immigration, mostly unintentional, from other parts of the world besides Great Britain (primarily Africa, North America and Ireland).

Current overseas territories

flag area location Capital population Area (km²)
Flag of Anguilla.svg Anguilla Caribbean
( geographic coordinates )
The Valley 000000000015423.000000000015,423 000000000000096.000000000096
Flag of Bermuda.svg Bermuda North Atlantic / North America
( geographic coordinates )
Hamilton 000000000064689.000000000064,689 000000000000053.100000000053.1
Flag of the British Antarctic Territory.svg British Antarctic Territory (territorial claim not internationally recognized due to the Antarctic Treaty ;

Overlaps with territorial claims of Chile and Argentina )

( geographic coordinates )
Rothera (main station) 000000000000200.0000000000200 (staff) 000000001709400.00000000001,709,400
Flag of the British Virgin Islands.svg British Virgin Islands Caribbean
( geographic coordinates )
Road Town 000000000031148.000000000031,148 000000000000153.0000000000153
Flag of the Commissioner of the British Indian Ocean Territory.svg British Indian Ocean Territory ( Chagos Archipelago ) Indian Ocean
( geocoordinates )
Diego Garcia 000000000003700.00000000003,700 (military and personnel) 000000000000060.000000000060
Flag of the Falkland Islands.svg Falkland Islands South Atlantic / South America
( geocoordinates )
Stanley 000000000002967.00000000002,967 000000000012173.000000000012.173
Flag of Gibraltar.svg Gibraltar Europe
( geographic coordinates )
Gibraltar 000000000028750.000000000028,750 000000000000006.50000000006.5
Flag of the Cayman Islands.svg Cayman Islands Caribbean
( geographic coordinates )
George Town 000000000041934.000000000041,934 000000000000264.0000000000264
Flag of Montserrat.svg Montserrat Caribbean
( geographic coordinates )
Plymouth (abandoned; temporarily Brades ) 000000000004922.00000000004,922 000000000000102.0000000000102
Flag of the Pitcairn Islands.svg Pitcairn Islands South Pacific
( geocoordinates )
Adamstown 000000000000048.000000000048 000000000000047.000000000047
Flag of the United Kingdom.svg St. Helena,
Ascension and
Tristan da Cunha
St. Helenas flag
St. Helena South Atlantic
( geocoordinates )
Jamestown 000000000005663.00000000005,663 000000000000420.0000000000420
Ascensions flag
Ascension Georgetown
Tristan da Cunhas flag
Tristan da Cunha Edinburgh of the Seven Seas
Flag of the United Kingdom.svg Sovereign military bases of Akrotiri and Dekelia Cyprus
( geographic coordinates )
Episkopi Cantonment 000000000015500.000000000015,500 (military and personnel) 000000000000254.0000000000254
Flag of South Georgia and the South Sandwich Islands.svg South Georgia and the South Sandwich Islands South Atlantic
( geocoordinates )
King Edward Point / Grytviken 000000000000011.000000000011–26 (staff) 000000000004066.00000000004,066
Flag of the Turks and Caicos Islands.svg Turks and Caicos Islands Caribbean
( geographic coordinates )
Cockburn Town 000000000041000.000000000041,000 000000000000497.0000000000497


Head of state

Queen Elizabeth II , head of state of the overseas territories

The head of state of the overseas territories is the British monarch , currently Queen Elizabeth II. She exercises her function as Queen of the United Kingdom and not in the law of the respective territory. The Queen appoints a representative in each area who exercises her executive power . In areas with permanent populations, it appoints a governor (usually a senior retired officer or civil servant) on a proposal from the British Government . In territories without a permanent population, the queen is usually represented by a commissioner . In overseas territories with outlying the governor can an administrator (Administrator) appoint to represent it in this foreign possession.

The governor is the de facto head of state and is usually responsible for appointing the head of government and filling important political offices in the area. In addition to ceremonial duties, the governor's duties include maintaining relations with the government of the United Kingdom. A proxy has the same authority as a governor, but is also head of government.


Each of the overseas territories has its own form of government and laws adapted to local conditions. The structure of government depends on the size of the area.

Areas Form of government
No permanent indigenous population and therefore no elected government. An authorized representative, supported by an administrator, regulates the affairs of the area.
There is no elected government. However, the British military authorities try, as far as possible, to ensure that the law is consistent with that of the Republic of Cyprus .
The government consists of a Legislative Council headed by a Chief Minister . The governor is the head of state and heads the executive council, which consists of appointed members from the ranks of the Legislative Council and two ex officio members .
These larger areas have larger Legislative Councils with political parties. The executive council is usually called the cabinet and is headed by a chief minister who is the leader of the majority party in parliament. The governor has less influence over internal affairs and is mainly concerned with foreign and economic policy, while the elected government is responsible for most "internal" affairs.
Settled in 1609, Bermuda is the oldest and most populous overseas territory. Most of the executive power lies in the hands of the head of government, the prime minister. Its form of government is very similar to that of a sovereign kingdom in the Commonwealth . The UK government has only marginal rights exercised by a governor; day-to-day business is done by the local ministers. The Bermuda Parliament met for the first time in 1620, and since then Bermuda has been largely self-governing and self-sufficient.

Legal system

Each overseas territory has its own legal system independent of the UK. It is generally based on English law with some differences for local reasons. Each area has its own attorney general and its own judiciary. For smaller areas, the UK can appoint a UK-based attorney or judge to handle the legal cases. This is especially important in serious crime cases, as well as in cases where it would be impossible on an island with a very small population to put together a jury that does not know the accused.

The 2004 Pitcairn rape trial is a good example of how the UK can set the legal framework for specific cases where the area itself is unable to.

Relations with the UK

It is up to the Foreign and Commonwealth Office ( FCO) to protect the interests of the overseas territories. At the head of the Office for Overseas (Overseas Territory Department) the Minister is the Foreign Ministry for Overseas Territories, currently the Parliamentary Under Secretary of State Baron Triesman .

An exception is the area of ​​the Sovereign Military Bases, which is under the jurisdiction of the Ministry of Defense .

In 1999 the FCO published a paper entitled Partnership for Progress and Prosperity: Britain and the Overseas Territories , which sets out the UK's policy towards overseas territories. The four main fields are:

  • Self-determination
  • UK and Territory Responsibilities
  • Democratic self-government
  • Regulations for assistance and services

The United Kingdom and the overseas territories do not have diplomatic missions together, although the governments of the overseas territories with indigenous populations (except Bermuda) all have an embassy in London . The United Kingdom Overseas Territories Association also represents the interests of the areas in London.

The UK provides grants to the overseas territories through the Department of Development Aid. At the moment, only Montserrat and St. Helena receive domestic help (i.e. financial support for current expenses). There are several UK dedicated funds including:

  • The Good Government Fund which provides assistance with government administration;
  • The Economic Diversification Program budget, which aims to broaden the economic base of the areas.

External affairs

The Rock of Gibraltar , a long-standing object of dispute between Great Britain and Spain

The foreign policy of the overseas territories is shaped by the Foreign and Commonwealth Ministry in London . However, some areas have diplomatic envoys in neighboring countries for trade and immigration matters. Some of the Caribbean areas are members of the Caribbean Community . Neither area is a member of the Commonwealth of Nations , although they participate in the Commonwealth Games .

Gibraltar was the only overseas territory to be part of the European Union until 2020 (but not a part of the customs union ). None of the other overseas territories were members of the EU and EU law did not apply there, although residents as British citizens (who they are mainly since the British Overseas Territories Act 2002 ) also counted as European citizens . Although they were not formally part of the EU, the overseas territories were able to receive structural funds aid.

Various nations contest the sovereignty of the United Kingdom over the following overseas territories:


None of the overseas territories has its own citizenship . All citizens count as British Overseas Territories citizens (BOTC). However, the areas have legislative independence over immigration, and BOTC status does not automatically grant the holder the right to reside in any area, as that depends on the area's immigration laws. An area can allow a person who is classified as a BOTC, by granting " Belonger status ", the permanent residence in this area to which they have close connections. Non-UK nationals can acquire Affiliate status to settle in a specific area (and can later become naturalized BOTCs if they so choose).

Historically, most of the inhabitants of the British Empire were British subjects, a status that was usually lost with the country's independence. From 1949 British subjects in the United Kingdom and the remaining Crown Colonies became citizens of the United Kingdom and the colonies . An amendment to British Citizenship Law in 1983 introduced separate citizenship for the British Dependent Areas and denied full British citizenship to most areas. This was mainly to prevent a mass exodus of Hong Kong citizens before the agreed surrender to China in 1997. There were exceptions for Gibraltar and the Falkland Islands .

However, the British Overseas Territories Act 2002 replaced the citizenship of a dependent territory with British overseas citizenship and re-granted full British citizenship to all BOTCs except for those in the sovereign military bases of Akrotiri and Dekelia in Cyprus. This also gave the BOTCs the right to take up residence in the UK.

However, UK citizens do not automatically have the right to move to any of the overseas territories. Some areas prohibit immigration, and visitors need permission from the area's government to live in the area. As areas primarily used as military bases, Ascension Island and the British Indian Ocean Territory do not allow visitors who do not have an official mandate.


Military bases

The United Kingdom is responsible for the defense of the overseas territories. Many overseas territories are used as military bases by the United Kingdom and its allies.


There are locally recruited military units in four of the UK's overseas territories:

Symbols and badges

The British monarch gave each overseas territory its own flag and coat of arms . Traditionally, the flags are based on the Blue Ensign with the Union Jack as Gösch of the area and the coat of arms in the fly . Exceptions are Bermuda, which uses a Red Ensign , the British Antarctic Territory, which uses a White Ensign , the British Indian Ocean Territory, which uses a Blue Ensign with wavy lines symbolizing the sea, and finally Gibraltar with one on its Coat of arms based flag .

Akrotiri and Dekelia bases are the only British overseas territory without an official flag of their own. The Union Jack is used in this area .


See also


  • Simon Winchester: Outposts. Journeys to the surviving relics of the British Empire. Previous edition. Penguin Books Ltd, London 2003, ISBN 0-14-101189-0 .
  • Gerhard Altmann: Farewell to the Empire. The internal decolonization of Great Britain 1945–1985. Wallstein-Verlag, Göttingen 2005, ISBN 3-89244-870-1 ( Moderne Zeit 8), (At the same time: Freiburg (Breisgau), Univ., Diss., 2003).

Web links

Commons : British Overseas Territories  - collection of images, videos and audio files

Individual evidence

  1. Foreign & Commonwealth Office - Overseas territories ( Memento of the original from June 23, 2012 on WebCite ) Info: The archive link was automatically inserted and not yet checked. Please check the original and archive link according to the instructions and then remove this notice. at; accessed: June 4, 2012 @1@ 2Template: Webachiv / IABot /
  2. Partnership for Progress and Prosperity: Britain and the Overseas Territories (English)
  3. Good Government Fund (English)
  4. Economic Diversification Program Budget (English)