What’s the story?

Andrew Fahie, premier of the British Virgin Islands (BVI), will not plead guilty to charges of drug smuggling and money laundering, it was reported this week.

Fahie was arrested last week at a Miami airport as part of a sting operation conducted by the United States Drug Enforcement Administration (DEA), after agreeing to accept $700,000 in return for permitting a cocaine shipment to the US.

Though a judge has ruled he can only be released on a $500,000 bond ahead of his trial, Fahie has argued that as prime minister he can claim diplomatic immunity from arrest and detention.

What are the consequences?

In the short term, Fahie has been replaced by acting premier Natalio Wheatley, but a potentially greater upheaval in the government of the BVI could emerge if the recommendations made by a commission of inquiry last week are implemented.

The commission, headed by retired British judge Sir Gary Hickinbottom, asserted that corruption and poor government were so endemic throughout the BVI that it was necessary to partially suspend the constitution, close the country’s national assembly and impose direct rule by the UK Government.

What has the reaction been in the BVI?

The possibility of direct rule has arguably elicited a more furious reaction from within the BVI than the arrest of the nation’s premier. Upon arrival in the BVI this week, UK Foreign Office minister Amanda Milling was greeted by protests chanting “no UK rule”.

Protest organiser Bishop John Ivan Cline commented: “This is a very significant, historical moment in the life of the Virgin Islands. The UK has decided after 70 years of self-governance that they want to take our rights and deny us the opportunity of having a democratically elected government.

“They want to tell us that one man [Foreign Office-appointed Governor James Rankin] should be able to make the decisions for 30,000 people. They want to tell us that we don’t have the necessary competence to run our country, and we are saying we will not surrender our rights.

READ MORE: Acting premier 'very concerned' UK may take direct control over British Virgin Islands

“We welcome the UK’s help - but a democracy and a dictatorship are two different things. We want the opportunity to go back to the polls and elect a democratic government to rule over us. But this colonialist mindset that you will tell us what to do is wrong, unjust and we will not stand for it.”

In a statement ahead of the protests, the acting premier also expressed concern over the proposal, saying: “What this would mean in real terms is that there would be no more elected representatives who represent the people of the districts and the territory in the House of Assembly where laws are made for our society.

“There also would be no government ministers to advance the public’s priorities or a cabinet to approve policy. All of this authority would be vested in the governor.”

BVI culture minister Luce Hodge-Smith added: “Our message to the United Kingdom government and to the world: there will be no direct rule in this land.”

What has the international reaction been?

This week, the Organisation of East Caribbean States (OECS) issued a statement opposing direct rule and drawing parallels with the Caribbean’s history with colonialism.

The OECS said: “It is ill-advised to impose direct colonial rule and the history of such imposition in the Caribbean has never delivered the desired result.

“The OECS concurs with the elected representatives of the people of the BVI that abolition of parliament with direct rule from London represents a retrograde step in the evolution of the democratic process that is inconsistent with the United Nations proclamation of human rights to be free of colonial rule.

“The historical responsibility for strengthening governance in the BVI must rest on the shoulders of the elected representatives and the people of the BVI themselves. That ultimately will be the guarantee of good governance and full, transparent accountability.

“The UN declaration on granting independence to colonial countries and peoples – resolution 1514 of 1960 – is an international commitment to which Britain is itself bound.”

What’s the alternative?

The acting premier has proposed a national unity government composed of members of both the National Democratic Party and the Progressive Virgin Islands Movement, which would remain in power for roughly a year, with elections scheduled to take place in February 2023.

What's the UK Government's position?

According to UK Foreign Office minister Amanda Milling, a decision is yet to be made on whether or not direct rule will be imposed.

In a statement made following her visit to the BVI, Milling said: “There is no getting away from this. Like many people have told me, this isn’t a question of whether something should be done. It is a question of what is done.”