And then, there were 13!

With the handover of Hong Kong to China, Britain had not been completely divested of its empire. The hangover from Empire means that there is still 13 territories that remain under British administration. As a rule, each of the remaining 13 territories are just too small or remote to survive on their own as independent entities. The starkest example of this kind of territory is Pitcairn Island. With a population of just 54 it has to be one of the remotest places on earth. It's quite a fitting testimony to empire that the inhabitants of this island are mainly descended from the infamous HMS Bounty mutineers.

The largest territory left under British administration are the Falkland Islands. Unfortunately, far too much political and military capital has been spent in the recent past to even consider returning this rocky outcrop to its nearest neighbours. Similarly, Gibraltarians maintain their siege mentality against any Spanish claims on their lump of rock.

With six territories, the Caribbean retains the greatest density of the remaining outposts of empire. One of their number, Montserrat, is fast becoming uninhabitable with its volcanic activities forcing the evacuation of its capital to the North of the island. Bermuda could quite easily become an independent island state if it wanted. However, it seems quite content to maintain the legal and financial links with Britain in order to maintain the confidence of its offshore banking and business facilities. They saw what happened after the Bahamas launched into nationhood and watched all the businesses flee to the the British Caymans. Funny shaped hats and a public holiday for the Queen seems a small price to pay for staying in the financial premier division.

The British Indian Ocean territory is a very real relic of the cold war era, containing the Anglo-American Indian Ocean base of Diego Garcia. This military base is perhaps too conveniently close to one of the world's flash points to afford the luxury of giving it up. The base was used extensively during the Gulf war and the invasion of Iraq and still plays a key role in the strategic planning of the area. Its native Ilois inhabitants were forcibly resettled during the '60s.

The island of St. Helena is equally as remote as the Indian Ocean territories but without the redeeming features of a decent port on the major trade lanes or anywhere near any strategically important part of the world. Its 5000 inhabitants were stripped of their right to live and work in Britain (with the rest of the territories) in 1981. This was almost certainly a cold, calculated act to avoid millions of Hong Kong residents fleeing to Britain ahead of the handover to the Chinese. The effect has been that the inhabitants of St. Helena are basically prisoners left over from the Empire, with no industry to support them at home and no visa rights or representation throughout the rest of the world. It is hoped, with Hong Kong having been returned, that there legal rights as British citizens could be reestablished. An airport is finally being built on the rocky, volcanic island which may mean that it loses some of its remoteness and reconnect it to the economic world.

The empire has come and gone with the passing of time, these territories are almost the only geographical artifacts left to remind people that it ever existed in the first place. Technically, the sun still does never sets on Empire - but only just!

The last remaining Dependent Territories are:


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by Stephen Luscombe