The Brits have taken over Turks and Caicos. Is Canada next?

Answers to your questions about the news.
Aug. 18 2009 6:15 PM

The Brits Have Taken Over Turks and Caicos. Is Canada Next?

Only if the Queen is feeling imperial.

Turks and Caicos Islands, Grace Bay Beach.
Turks and Caicos Islands, Grace Bay Beach

The British Foreign Office announced last week that it had suspended parts of the constitution of Turks and Caicos and would dissolve the Cabinet and legislature. The U.K. government decided that corruption on the islands had gone too far, and London will assume direct control until it can "restore good governance and sound financial management." Can Britain dissolve the government of other former colonies—like, say, Canada?

The government led by Prime Minister Gordon Brown doesn't have that power, but the Queen might. Unlike Turks and Caicos, which remains an overseas territory of the United Kingdom, Canada has no formal relationship with the British government. Its ties to the United Kingdom have to do with Queen Elizabeth II, who officially serves as queen of England and Canada. (She's also the queen of Australia, Jamaica, Tuvalu, and others.) But these positions are legally distinct, meaning that her job in Canada is neither related to, nor dependent on, her title in England. In fact, she doesn't even venture across the Atlantic to perform her royal duties; rather, she appoints a governor general to swear in the prime minister, summon Parliament into session, provide royal assent to laws, and dissolve Parliament in preparation for elections. Technically speaking, the queen (acting through the governor general) may be able to dissolve the Canadian Parliament unilaterally. However, such an unprecedented act would trigger a historic constitutional crisis. (Indeed, whenever the governor general is called upon to make decisions, there is much hand-wringing among Canadian politicians.)


The island nation of Turks and Caicos is not an independent country, but a non-self-governing overseas territory.  The United Kingdom holds 13 other such territories, most of which are in the West Indies. (The United States has a similar relationship with Guam, American Samoa, and the U.S. Virgin Islands.) Even though many of these maintain their own constitutions and government bodies, the British government has the final say. In the case of Turks and Caicos, the U.K.'s representative on the island will replace the government with an administrative council and a consultative forum made up mostly of "Belongers," the technical term for natives or long-term residents of the islands.

The political upheaval likely won't faze the Belongers. The islands have bounced between Spanish, French, and British rule for most of their history. Even when Turks and Caicos settled under the Brits, Bermuda and the Bahamas fought over the islands' salt deposits and tax revenues. In the past 20 years, there have been repeated discussions about leaving the United Kingdom and joining Canada, although it is not clear that the islands could do this without Britain's approval.

Got a question about today's news? Ask the Explainer.

Explainer thanks Manoah Esipisu of the Commonwealth, Brendan O'Grady of the British Embassy, Robert Travers of Cornell University, and Mark Walters of Queen's University.*

Correction, Aug. 19, 2009: This article originally omitted the apostrophe from the name of Queen's University.

Brian Palmer writes about science, medicine, and the environment for Slate and the Natural Resources Defense Council. Email him at Follow him on Twitter.


Justice Ginsburg’s Crucial Dissent in the Texas Voter ID Case

The Jarring Experience of Watching White Americans Speak Frankly About Race

How Facebook’s New Feature Could Come in Handy During a Disaster

The Most Ingenious Teaching Device Ever Invented

Sprawl, Decadence, and Environmental Ruin in Nevada

View From Chicago

You Should Be Able to Sell Your Kidney

Or at least trade it for something.

Space: The Next Generation

An All-Female Mission to Mars

As a NASA guinea pig, I verified that women would be cheaper to launch than men.

Terrorism, Immigration, and Ebola Are Combining Into a Supercluster of Anxiety

The Legal Loophole That Allows Microsoft to Seize Assets and Shut Down Companies

  News & Politics
Oct. 19 2014 1:05 PM Dawn Patrol Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg’s critically important 5 a.m. wake-up call on voting rights.
Business Insider
Oct. 19 2014 11:40 AM Pot-Infused Halloween Candy Is a Worry in Colorado
Oct. 17 2014 5:26 PM Judge Begrudgingly Strikes Down Wyoming’s Gay Marriage Ban
  Double X
The XX Factor
Oct. 17 2014 4:23 PM A Former FBI Agent On Why It’s So Hard to Prosecute Gamergate Trolls
  Slate Plus
Tv Club
Oct. 20 2014 7:15 AM The Slate Doctor Who Podcast: Episode 9 A spoiler-filled discussion of "Flatline."
Oct. 19 2014 4:33 PM Building Family Relationships in and out of Juvenile Detention Centers
Future Tense
Oct. 17 2014 6:05 PM There Is No Better Use For Drones Than Star Wars Reenactments
  Health & Science
Bad Astronomy
Oct. 20 2014 7:00 AM Gallery: The Red Planet and the Comet
Sports Nut
Oct. 16 2014 2:03 PM Oh What a Relief It Is How the rise of the bullpen has changed baseball.