BERMUDA is facing a constitutional crisis after the UK Government refused to give royal assent to a bill looking to legalise cannabis in the island nation.

The government of Bermuda is run by the Progressive Labour Party (PLP), which won a significant majority (30 of the Berdmudian assembly’s 36 seats) at a general election held in October 2020.

One of its flagship policies was to legalise the recreational use of marijuana – having already decriminalised possession of fewer than seven grams in 2017.

The country’s premier, E David Burt, warned: “If Her Majesty’s representative in Bermuda does not give assent to something that has been passed lawfully and legally under this local government, this will destroy the relationship we had with the United Kingdom.”

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However, on September 7 – the day after Liz Truss was officially appointed Prime Minister – the UK Government refused to allow Bermuda to pass the law.

Bermudian governor Rena Lalgie said she had been “instructed” by the UK Foreign Secretary, now James Cleverly, to refuse to consent to the bill’s passing.

Lalgie (below) said the bill was “not consistent with obligations held by the UK and Bermuda under the 1961 Single Convention on Narcotic Drugs and the 1971 Convention on Psychotropic Substances”.

She added: “I have informed the Premier and relayed the UK’s continued desire to work with Bermuda on reforms within the scope of our existing international obligations.”

The National: UK GovernmentUK Government (Image: UK Government)

Foreign office minister Jesse Norman echoed this statement in response to a parliamentary question from the SNP’s Owen Thompson asking about “the potential constitutional implications of the UK Government not providing assent to the Bermuda Cannabis Licensing Bill 2022”.

Thompson told The National that the UK Government’s intervention in the politics of the Atlantic island nation was “wrong and reckless”.

He went on: “Not content with crashing our economy, Liz Truss's chaotic government also risks a constitutional crisis with Bermuda. By instructing the governor to block a bill they are damaging relations and showing disrespect for the Bermudian goverment.

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“It also clearly demonstrates the need for reform in an archaic system, harking back to the Empire of old.

"In Scotland we already know what scant regard Tory governments hold for our democratic decisions, we have seen it for years.

"The new Prime Minister is not having a very promising start to her premiership. As someone who pledged to 'stand up for freedom and democracy around the world' this is not a good way to show it. Perhaps she should focus on stopping the economic meltdown, sort her own policies out, and let Bermuda be."

Bermuda’s attorney general, Kathy Lynn Simmons, set up a confrontation with the Tories over the policy.

She said London’s interference was “disappointing, but not surprising, given the confines of our constitutional relationship with the UK Government and their archaic interpretation of the narcotic conventions”.

Simmons added: “The people of Bermuda have democratically expressed their desire for a regulated cannabis licensing regime, following the strong endorsement at the ballot box and an extensive public consultation process.

“The government of Bermuda intends to continue to advance this initiative, within the full scope of its constitutional powers, in keeping with our 2020 general election platform commitment.”

The opposition “One Bermuda Alliance” has publicly criticised the bill, suggesting the government knew it would lead to a clash with the UK in an attempt to push for full independence.

However, the Royal Gazette quoted a source in the PLP dismissing these allegations. They said: “We said we would push for cannabis legislation, and we did. If we were going to push for independence, we would.”

Royal assent in Bermuda, like in Scotland and the UK, is the final stage in the passing of a government’s bill before it becomes law. It is often seen as a formality, especially in the UK.

A Foreign Office spokesperson said: “Bermuda’s proposed cannabis licensing bill is not consistent with the UK or the territory’s international obligations.”