British Overseas Territories

territories under the jurisdiction and sovereignty of the United Kingdom

Before 1981 they were known as Crown colonies. The British Overseas Territories are also referred to as overseas territories of the United Kingdom,[1] UK overseas territories,[2] or when the context is clear, simply the Overseas Territories.[3]There are fourteen[3] territories under the United Kingdom's sovereignty.[4]

Flags of the British Overseas Territories

Each of the British Overseas Territories has a government, parliament, and prime minister to make all laws, except laws about defense and foreign affairs. The British government manages its defense and foreign affairs. British Overseas Territories which have no local population or any population, have no local self-rule. If the British Overseas Territory is ruled badly, the government of the British Overseas Territory can be taken over by the British government and ruled directly by it, without the agreement of the British Overseas Territory.

The territories of Jersey, Guernsey , and the Isle of Man, though under the sovereignty of the British Crown, have a slightly different constitutional relationship with the United Kingdom, so they are classed as Crown dependencies rather than Overseas Territories. Unlike British Overseas Territories, the British government cannot take over the government of a Crown dependency, unless the government of the Crown dependency agrees. Territories and dependencies are distinct from the Commonwealth of Nations, a voluntary association of former British colonies which are independent countries.

In a historical context, colonies should be distinguished from protectorates and protected states, which though under British control, were nominally independent states, whereas colonies were part of the British state. They should also not be confused with Dominions, which, known collectively as the Commonwealth, were independent states, held to be equal in sovereign status to the United Kingdom within the Empire and Commonwealth after the Statute of Westminster in 1931. Crown colonies, such as Hong Kong, were differentiated from other colonies in being administered directly by the Crown, without the degree of local autonomy found in self-governed colonies and other British Overseas Territories such as Bermuda.

Current Overseas Territories

Flag Arms Territory Location Motto Area Population Capital
    Anguilla Caribbean Strength and Endurance 102 km²
(39.4 sq mi)
12,800 The Valley
    Bermuda North Atlantic Ocean Quo fata ferunt (Latin: "Whither the Fates carry [us]") 53.3 km²
(20.6 sq mi)
64,482 Hamilton
    British Antarctic Territory Antarctica Research and discovery 1,709,400 km²
(666,000 sq mi)
200 staff Rothera (main base)
    British Indian Ocean Territory Indian Ocean In tutela nostra Limuria (Latin: "Limuria is in our charge") 60 km²
(23 sq mi)
3,200 military and staff Diego Garcia (base)
    British Virgin Islands Caribbean Vigilate (Latin: "Be watchful") 153 km²
(59 sq mi)
21,730 Road Town
    Cayman Islands Caribbean He hath founded it upon the seas 260 km²
(100.4 sq mi)
46,600 George Town
    Falkland Islands South Atlantic Ocean Desire the right 12,173 km²
(4,702 sq mi)
2,967 Stanley
    Gibraltar Southern Europe Nulli expugnabilis hosti (Latin: "Conquerable by no enemy") 6.5 km²
(2.5 sq mi)
27,776 Gibraltar
    Montserrat Caribbean Each Endeavouring, All Achieving 102 km²
(39 sq mi)
9,000 Plymouth (abandoned due to volcano—de facto capital is Brades)
    Pitcairn Islands Pacific Ocean Dieu et mon droit (French: "God and my right") 43 km²
(17 sq mi)
(all islands)
67 Adamstown
    Saint Helena (including Ascension, Tristan da Cunha)   South Atlantic Ocean Loyal and unshakeable 410 km²
(158 sq mi)
(all islands)
6,563 Jamestown
    South Georgia and the South Sandwich Islands South Atlantic Ocean Leo terram propriam protegat (Latin: "Let the lion protect his land") 3,903 km²
(1508 sq mi)
11-26 staff King Edward Point/Grytviken
    Sovereign Base Areas of Akrotiri and Dhekelia Mediterranean (Cyprus) Dieu et mon droit (French: "God and my right") 254 km²
(98 sq mi)
15,000 (almost half British military and staff)   Episkopi Cantonment
    Turks and Caicos Islands North Atlantic Ocean One people, one nation, one destiny 430 km²
(166 sq mi)
21,500 Cockburn Town



The head of state in the Overseas Territories is the British monarch, presently King Charles III. The King’s role in the territories is in his role as King of the United Kingdom, and not in right of each territory. The monarch appoints a representative in each territory to exercise their executive power.

Head of States
Governor of Anguilla | Governor of Bermuda | Commissioner of the British Antarctic Territory | Commissioner of the British Indian Ocean Territory | Governor of the British Virgin Islands | Governor of the Cayman Islands | Governor of the Falkland Islands | Governor of Gibraltar | Governor of Montserrat| Governor of the Pitcairn Islands | Governor of Saint Helena | Civil Commissioner of South Georgia and the South Sandwich Islands | Administrator of Tristan da Cunha | Governor of the Turks and Caicos Islands

All the Overseas Territories have their system of government, and localized laws. The structure of the government appears to be closely correlated to the size and political development of the territory.

Territories Government
No native population, therefore there is no elected government. The Commissioner, supported by an Administrator run the affairs of the territory.
There is no elected government, and currently has no native settled population. However, the Chagos Islanders - who were forcibly evicted from the territory in 1971 and might reasonably considered to be that territory's people - are currently defending an appeal against an English High Court judgment which quashed an Order preventing them from returning.
There is no elected government, however the British military authorities try to ensure convergence of laws with those of the Republic of Cyprus where possible.
There is an elected Mayor and Island Council, who have the power to propose and administer local legislation. However, their decisions are subject to approval by the Governor, who retains near-unlimited powers of plenary legislation on behalf of the United Kingdom Government.
The Government consists of an elected Legislative Council. The Governor is the head of government and leads the Executive Council, consisting of appointed members made up from the Legislative Council and two ex-offico members.
These larger territories have a larger Legislative Council, with political parties. The Executive Council is usually called a cabinet and is led by a Chief Minister (except in the Cayman Islands, which have a Leader of Government Business), who is the leader of the majority party in parliament. The Governor exercises less power over local affairs and deals mostly with foreign affairs and economic issues, while the elected government controls most "domestic" concerns.
Under the 2006 constitution which was approved in Gibraltar by a referendum, Gibraltar now has a Parliament. The Government, headed by the Chief Minister is elected. Defence, external affairs and internal security vest in the Governor as a matter of distribution of powers. The UK administers absolutely nothing in Gibraltar.[5]
Bermuda, settled in 1609, is the oldest and most populous of the Overseas Territories, and most executive powers have been devolved to the head of government, known as the Premier. Its system of government is very similar to that of a sovereign Commonwealth Realm. The UK government retains only minor powers, exercised through the Governor, but most of those are handed to local ministers for day-to-day purposes. Bermuda's Parliament held its first session in 1620, and Bermuda has been largely self-governed and self-sufficient since then.

The Turks and Caicos Islands adopted a new constitution effective 9 August 2006; their head of government now also has the title Premier, and their autonomy has been greatly increased.


Each Overseas Territory has its own legal system independent of the United Kingdom. The legal system is generally based on English common law, with some distinctions for local circumstances. Each territory has its own Attorney General, and court system. For the smaller territories, the UK may appoint a UK-based lawyer or judge to work on legal cases. This is particularly important for cases involving serious crimes and where it is impossible to find a jury who will not know the defendant in a small population island.



  1. "CIA - The World Factbook". Archived from the original on 2010-02-01. Retrieved 2007-08-05.{{cite web}}: CS1 maint: bot: original URL status unknown (link)
  2. "Foreign & Commonwealth Office Country Profiles". Archived from the original on 2003-07-31. Retrieved 2020-09-15.
  3. 3.0 3.1 "Foreign & Commonwealth Office". GOV.UK.
  4. The name "British Overseas Territory" was introduced by the British Overseas Territories Act 2002, and replaced the name British dependent territory which was introduced by the British Nationality Act 1981.
  5. "speech at the United Nations, 2007". Archived from the original on 2007-09-30. Retrieved 2007-08-05.

Further reading

  • Harry Ritchie: The Last Pink Bits
  • Simon Winchester: Outposts: Travel to the Remains of the British Empire (published in 1985 in the UK as Outposts: Journeys to the Surviving Relics of the British Empire also in the US as The Sun Never Sets: Travels to the Remaining Outposts of the British Empire.)

Other websites