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Crown colony

An overseas territory of the United Kingdom (formerly known as a dependent territory or earlier as a crown colony) is a territory that is under the sovereignty and formal control of the United Kingdom but is not a physical part of the United Kingdom.

Overseas territories or crown colonies should also be distinguished from Crown dependencies (the Channel Islands and the Isle of Man, which have a different constitutional relationship with the United Kingdom), and protectorates (which were not formally under the sovereignty of the United Kingdom). They should also not be confused with Commonwealth realms, which are independent states which share the same sovereign as the United Kingdom.

At one time, crown colonies were just like any other colony and were directly administered by officials appointed by the British government. Today, however most overseas territories are nearly fully self-governing, only relying on Britain for defence, foreign affairs, and some trade issues.

Crown colonies have never been considered integral parts of the United Kingdom, and have never had representation in the British Parliament, on the grounds that they are separate jurisdictions. This is in contrast to other European countries, such as France, Denmark, and the Netherlands, whose dependencies have varying degrees of integration with their so-called 'mother countries'. Only in Malta was integration ever seriously considered by the British Government, in 1955, but this was later abandoned, while in Gibraltar it was rejected in 1976.

Queen Elizabeth II is head of state in the overseas territories in her role as Queen of the United Kingdom, not in right of each territory. This compares with independent realms of the Commonwealth of Nations, such as Canada or Australia, where the Queen has a separate and distinct role in each realm as "Queen of Canada" or "Queen of Australia".

The Queen apppoints a Governor who acts on her behalf, and is in charge of the territory's internal security matters, as well as acting as a delegate between the colony and the British government. He possesses the power to dissolve the parliament and must give all laws his personal Royal Assent. Depending on the stage of the colony's evolution (see Stages of colonial evolution) these may be only exercised in a symbolic capacity. The Governor is usually from the United Kingdom.

Over the years, colonial governments have evolved in stages, with the intent being eventual independence from Britain. Colonies with tiny populations rarely evolve beyond stage one.

Table of contents
1 Stages of colonial evolution
2 Current overseas territories
3 Former crown colonies

Stages of colonial evolution

  1. In the first stage, there is no elected government of any sort. A governor, administrator or commissioner and his advisors run the affairs of the colony single-handely.
  2. In the second stage, a small elected legislature, usually called the legislative council, is founded. From the legislature, the governor appoints an executive council, chaired by himself. The highest ranking elected politician is known as the chief secretary.
  3. In the third stage the cabinet is led by a Chief Minister, who is the leader of the majority in parliament .
  4. In the fourth stage the Chief Minister becomes known as the Premier, and by this time virtually all executive authority has been delegated from the governor. The colony may be given 'Associated Statehood', as in the case of Antigua and Barbuda, Dominica, Grenada Saint Lucia, Saint Kitts and Nevis, and Saint Vincent, before they were granted full independence.
  5. The final stage is complete sovereignty and independence from Britain. The Premier becomes the Prime Minister, and the Governor becomes a Governor General. The new nation only maintains superficial ties to Britain as a Commonwealth Realm, with the British monarch as head of state and the Privy Council as the highest court of appeal. Alternatively, a Commonwealth country may become a republic on independence, as did Cyprus, Zambia, the Seychelles and Zimbabwe, or have its own monarchy, like Malaya, now Malaysia. Most other countries have become republics after independence.

Current overseas territories

Stage Four: Bermuda,
Stage Three: Anguilla, British Virgin Islands, Montserrat, Gibraltar, Turks and Caicos Islands
Stage Two: Cayman Islands, Falkland Islands, Saint Helena, Pitcairn Islands
Stage One: British Indian Ocean Territory, South Georgia and the South Sandwich Islands, British Antarctic Territory

In addition there are the Sovereign Base Areas of Akrotiri and Dhekelia in Cyprus.


Former crown colonies

For a fuller list of countries which were formerly crown colonies, or which include former crown colonies, see Commonwealth of Nations. Note that many Commonwealth countries were protectorates rather than colonies, such as Brunei. Some members were previously administered by other Commonwealth countries, such as Western Samoa (by New Zealand), Papua New Guinea (by Australia) and Namibia (by South Africa), while Mozambique was formerly a Portuguese colony.

Colonies that did not join the Commonwealth are Burma and Aden

See also British Empire.