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British Empire today


Does Britain still have an empire?

The UK still has a fair wedge of global territory, remnants of the British Empire. Whilst the Antarctic forms the vast majority of sovereign claims, the other dependencies cover a land mass of over 26,000 sq km plus a considerable amount of the surrounding waters. Anguilla, Bermuda, the British Antarctic Territory, the British Indian Ocean Territory (BIOT), the British Virgin Islands (BVI), the Cayman Islands, the Sovereign Base Areas of Akrotiri and Dhekelia on Cyprus, the Falkland Islands, Gibraltar, Montserrat, the Pitcairn Islands, Saint Helena and its dependencies (Ascension Island and Tristan da Cunha), South Georgia and the South Sandwich Islands, and the Turks and Caicos Islands are the fourteen jurisdictions of the crown, known as British Overseas Territories since 2002. As the map shows, BOT can be found across the oceans, in fact over 6 million square kilometres of ocean is commandeered by the British.

Constitutional links between the British Crown exist between fifteen other independent countries and the Monarch is the ceremonial head of the Commonwealth of Nations. Australia, Canada and New Zealand are the main Commonwealth Realms that normally spring to mind as these are English speaking and share an Anglo-Saxon ancestry and similar cultures. There are also several small Caribbean countries that are independent states that retain a link to the crown as well as Papua New Guinea, Tuvalu and the Solomon Islands in the Pacific. Certain commonwealth countries also have their own dependent territories and indeed New Zealand is actually three separate realms, each with its own direct representative of the Queen. In Australia, her majesty is represented by a Governor General for all Australia as well as one for each of the six states.

Britain also has three Crown dependencies, The Isle of Man, Guernsey and Jersey. Each has a distinct international identity, actively encouraged by the UK government which does not pass laws for the islands or represent them abroad without their consent. They are not members of the commonwealth or the EU.

The Commonwealth of Nations, often dismissed as a talking shop, is actually a well organised association with a large chunk of the globes natural resources and a rapidly rising 15% of world GDP. Including this block, which has the Queen as its symbolic leader takes the number to over seventy countries or territories with a direct British association. 54 are members of the United Nations in their own right.

British governments have also kept a considerable foothold in far flung places, not always in Commonwealth countries. There is a sizable military base in Kenya which is twice as large as all UK bases put together. Belize also has a military base offering the perfect jungle environment for army training. BATSUB (British Army Training Support Unit Belize) was mothballed as part of "defence cuts" but will be kept ticking over by UK personnel. Perhaps the most unusual annexation are the Cyprus military bases. Theses are constitutionally British Overseas Territory despite being situated on the island of Cyprus, a sovereign state.

Many former parts of the empire also chose not to be part of the commonwealth. Several gulf states such as Qatar, Egypt and Kuwait have previously been under British rule , not to mention the Port of Aden which Britain hastily withdrew from after a bloody war. An official "political" withdrawal took place in 1971 but the UK maintained considerable economic interest in the region. There is also a strong UK military contingent in the region and yet to be announced plans for a British presence "East of Suez" with a long term, strategic, smart force to protect national interests and support the internal security of our allies.

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British Overseas Territory

There are 14 remaining colonial outposts. Apart from the Antarctic area they are a collection of small islands scattered around the oceans of the world. Technically the sun still has not set on the British Empire. Even when the sun goes down in the Cayman Islands at 12.00 GMT, the tiny Pictairn Islands in the Pacific Ocean are still basking in the sun to be joined an hour later by the Indian Ocean island of Diego Garcia.

  1. Pictairn
  2. Gibraltar
  3. Cyprus Bases
  4. Bermuda
  5. Turks and Caicos
  6. Cayman Islands
  7. Anguilla
  8. British Virgin Islands
  9. Montserrat
  10. British Indian Ocean Territory
  11. St Helena, Ascension and Tristan da Cunha
  12. South Georgia
  13. British Antarctic Territory
  14. Falkland Islands

The Rock of Gibraltar

The Rock of Gibraltar viewed from over the border with Spain

The Rock of Gibraltar viewed from over the border with Spain

Visit the Empire

My first stop off is Gibraltar. Right on my doorstep, 1091 miles south west of Great Britain, ceded to Britain in 1713 by the Treaty of Utrecht, this tiny six square mile plot has a population of about 30,000. Like other parts of territory, Gibraltar is also claimed by somebody else, in this instance Spain with an escalation of hostilities in 2013. The Rock is the only imperial outpost that is part of the EU and shares an MEP with the South West of England.

Gibraltar also had its say in the UK referendum and voted overwhelmingly to remain in the EU. Despite this, Gibraltar will also leave the EU along with Britain as the population has all voted overwhelmingly to remain a British Territory.

There are lots of things to see in Gibraltar. The famous macaque monkeys, the only free roaming primates in Europe are your friendly companions as you ascend the rock. The lengthy World War Two tunnels which were dug inside the rock are a popular attraction as are Saint Michaels Caves.

Just twenty three miles off the coast of Africa, Gibraltar is a curious patch of Britishness clipped to mainland Europe. Crossing the border was swift for us but there can be big delays. As well as organised coach trips from the Costa Del Sol and Algerica, the closest Spanish town, you can also walk across the border from La Linea de Conception. There is a bus station in La Linea but not a lot else except a great view of the rock! There are also several flights from the UK into the town. Due to the shortage of space, two main roads have to close when planes land and take off as the runway runs the length of the territory. I witnessed this on my second Gibraltar visit in Summer 2017.

Staying in the Mediterranean, the next stop would have to be the Cyprus sovereign bases. Forming 98 square KM of land the two were created by a 1960 treaty that established the independent state of Cyprus. As well as the base areas the Army also protects several retained sites which are of strategic importance to the UK. Akrotiri and Dhekelia allow Britain to retain an important east Med presence which is also one of the most important listening stations in the world providing vital intelligence to both the UK and USA.

Within the Eastern SBA there are also 4 exclaves of the Republic of Cyprus which include two villages and a power station.

A population of around 14,000, 7,000 of whom are Cypriots who work on the bases or on farmland within the territory. The remaining inhabitants are military personnel and their families as well as civilians who are employed in support services.

Crown Dependencies


Crown Dependencies

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The Crown Dependencies constitute the Isle of Man, Jersey and Guernsey. Shetland and Orkney are also considered by some to be Crown Trust Dependencies due to the fact that they were pawned by King Christian I of Denmark to King James III of Scotland in 1468. Before the debate regarding Scottish independence there were in fact serious questions as to the future status of the islands should Scotland have decided to leave the union. It had also been floated that the nuclear base in Scotland could have been designated Sovereign Base similar to the Cyprus island bases and remain a part of the UK which of course we will now never know.

The ballywicks of Jersey and Guernsey are very important to the UK financial system and provided billions of pounds of liquidity during the financial crisis, some £400 billion during 2009 alone. Billions of pounds on foreign direct investment into the UK is also channeled through the three territories, especially Jersey.


Macaque monkey, the only free roaming monkeys in Europe

Macaque monkey, the only free roaming monkeys in Europe

Pound sterling is the official currency on The Rock with the territory issuing its own notes and coins

Pound sterling is the official currency on The Rock with the territory issuing its own notes and coins

Residence of the Governor, Lieutenant General Sir James Dutton since December 6th 2013

Residence of the Governor, Lieutenant General Sir James Dutton since December 6th 2013


South Atlantic

South Georgia and the South Sandwich Islands are a collection of islands that were governed as part of the Falklands Territory until 1985.

The inhospitable environment has a land mass of almost 4000 square km and no native population. Grytviken, the main settlement, is a former whaling station with a population of 99. It is a popular stop for cruise ships en route to the Antarctic. It was briefly captured by Argentine forces during the Falklands War but was retaken by UK forces without a return shot being fired.

The Falkland Islands themselves are an archipelago on the Patagonian shelf. The 2,932 population is largely of British descent and voted overwhelmingly in March 2013 to remain under British protection. The territory, just 184 miles off the Argentinian coast has a land area of some 4,700 sq miles (11,173 sq kilometres) with two main islands, East Falkland and West Falkland and 776 smaller islands

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Spires beach, Ascension Island

Spires beach, Ascension Island

Atlantic Ocean

A tiny collection of islands in the Atlantic, 1000 miles off the continent of Africa and some 8000 miles from Great Britain, St Helena, Ascension and Tristan da Cunha are a tiny pocket of British culture and politics. Tristan, the most remote inhabited island on the planet has a population of just 300 and is closer to the Cape of Good Horn than to its island neighbours. The islands have an area of 480 square km and a population of about 5,600. There is no contention regarding sovereignty and the United Kingdom governments is aiding attempts for the communities to become self sufficient by developing a tourist economy. It is also very interested in the natural resources in the ocean surrounding the islands with the Exclusive Economic Zone covering an area of 1,641,294 square km.

Getting to St Helena is not easy although a new airport is currently under construction and expected to be operational by 2015. Presently a voyage on the RMS St Helena is the only way to get to the island but many cruise ships do stop off in the summer months. Adventure seekers can actually fly out to Ascension Island from RAF Brize Norton in the UK. It is an 81/2 hour flight with ten seats available to commercial passengers.


British Territory in the USA

Well not quite but a tiny patch of land in Hawaii on which the Captain James Cook monument stands was deeded to the UK in 1877 by the then independent state. It is considered sovereign, non-embassy UK territory under the management of the British Consul-General in California who are responsible for maintaining the site. Kealakekua Bay, where the statue stands was the place he was killed. The site is difficult to access by land with most visitors choosing to hire a kayak and paddle across the 1.5 mile stretch of water.

Interestingly, the Union Jack still appears on the state flag of Hawaii, testament to its strong historical links to the Royal Navy and its one time status as a British Protectorate. I was also interested to find out that the first national flag of the United States, the Grand Union Flag, also incorporated the British ensign.

Commonwealth countries under the Crown

In addition to the United Kingdom, there are fifteen other countries which have Queen Elizabeth as their head of state. Each is an independent country and each has its own distinct relationship with the crown. The monarch as Queen of Australia is a separate legal entity to her majesty as Queen of the UK. Each country has a Govenor-General who performs the duties of the monarch in all countries other than the UK. The Governor is appointed on the advice of the Prime Minister of the country in question. As Australia and Canada are federations, the Queen also has a representation in each state.

  1. Canada
  2. New Zealand
  3. Australia
  4. Antigua and Barbuda
  5. Belize
  6. Jamaica
  7. St Kitts and Nevis
  8. St Lucia
  9. Barbados
  10. St Vincent and the Grenadines
  11. Grenada
  12. Tuvalu
  13. Papua New Guinea
  14. Solomon Islands

The largest Kingdom in the world

  • Independence and referenda dates
    When did India, Ireland and other British territory gain independence from the UK and how long did each remain a realm before choosing to become a republic.
  • Diagram of Kingdoms
    A basic diagram showing the UK and overseas territory along with countries who retain the British Sovereign.



Where Britannia rules the waves


Brexit and the Commonwealth

So far the Brexit process is looking likely to have a positive effect on the UK's future relationship with the Commonwealth of Nations. There is talk of free trade agreements, certainly with Canada, Australia and New Zealand, the CANZUK. The reestablishment of a free travel area between Commonwealth realms is not out of the question and this would provide a pool of skilled and unskilled labour for all countries that signed up for it.

Brexit also forces the UK to take a global outlook both in terms of trade and defence. The UK has military and economic interests in it's territory and also some Commonwealth countries not to mention a few other countries where it has established military and economic interests.

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It's a great honour to have the Queen as Head of State and to be part of the Commonwealth

What's the future of the British Empire?

SuperMilitaryDiscounts on June 25, 2014:

Great lens. All of your readers have access to our Super Military Discounts. This is for the British Armed Forces but we also accept US Armed Forces too. I wish you all a great day and stay safe.

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