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This briefing describes the roles and powers of the UK-appointed Governors in each of the UK’s 14 Overseas Territories (OTs), and how they interact with Territory Governments.

What are the Overseas Territories?

There are 14 UK OTs across the globe, but only 10 are permanently inhabited by British nationals. The majority of their 260,000 inhabitants are British citizens.

The Territories all have historic links to the UK and with the UK and Crown Dependencies like Jersey form one undivided realm, where the Queen is sovereign. This means they have no separate representation internationally.

Inhabited Territories have elected governments

Each inhabited Territory has its own constitution and parliament or council.

However, they have varying powers and responsibilities. Bermuda and Gibraltar have almost full internal self-government, for example, while in the Pitcairn Islands the Governor remains the primary law-making authority.

What is the typical role of the Governor?

Generally, the smaller a Territory’s population, the more law-making power or policy responsibility the Governor (sometimes called the Administrator or Commissioner) wields.

Policy responsibilities

In most OTs, the Governor retains responsibility for external affairs, defence, and internal security (such as the police and judiciary).

In some, such as Anguilla and the Turks and Caicos Islands, the Governor also has responsibility for international financial service regulation. This has been retained by the UK because of the potential security, reputational or financial impact of the Territories on the UK.

These type of “reserve powers” mean the Governor can usually exercise their responsibilities in these fields without reference to the legislature or local government, though they often have to consult with them.

Legislative powers

Governors can have also significant law-making powers. Only three Territory constitutions do not allow the Governor to make laws: Bermuda, Montserrat, and St Helena (though they can in Ascension and Tristan da Cunha, which form part of the same Overseas Territory with St Helena). The UK retains the right to make law for all the Territories.

Other powers

Governors usually chair executive councils, issue pardons, and make grants of crown land.

What does this paper cover?

This paper is divided into five main sections:

  • Section 1 describes the population and location of the OTs.
  • Section 2 provides a background to UK-OT relations and how they are governed.
  • A summary and table on pages 13 to 16 summarises the law-making powers of governors and policy-issues that are reserved to them in each OT. Appendix 1 provides the full sources for the table.
  • Section 4 details how Governors can make, amend, and reject laws in each of the Territories, with some examples of their use.
  • Section 5 describes how the governors exercise their responsibilities on the topics reserved to them in each Territory with substantial reserved powers. It also provides examples of some recent controversies.

Other briefings on the Overseas Territories


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