On yer bike, Boris – we got this ...
“Since Bermuda has a large measure of internal self-government, the British Government has no authority to intervene in this matter”
— Foreign Secretary David Owen, Autumn 1977
The notion that British Foreign Secretary Boris Johnson could intervene in 2017 over the Bermuda legislature’s plans for same-sex marriage on the grounds that to ban it would go against “British values and principles” is utterly reprehensible.
When set against a disturbing and redefining period in the history of this country, as the mother country refused infamously 40 years ago to get involved in the last act of capital punishment carried out here — notably eight years after the death penalty had been abolished in Britain, having been suspended four years earlier — any form of interference at this stage would be rightfully shouted down for touching the heights of hypocrisy and double standards.
That is at the least; at the worst, it could spark a constitutional crisis.
The deaths by hanging of Erskine “Buck” Burrows and Larry Tacklyn set in motion days of rioting, burning and looting — and more death — after repeated attempts to gain a Queen’s pardon were rebuffed.
Jonathan Smith’s Island Flames recounts those horrific days and what led to them as though they were yesterday, the British Parliament taking the decision ultimately that the Queen could not be trusted to determine for herself whether the prerogative of mercy was warranted. Thus the ball was batted back into the court of the governor of the day, Sir Peter Ramsbotham, himself barely in tune with the Bermuda mood, given his newly minted status.
His hands tied, Sir Peter acceded to the wishes of the government of the day, then headed by Sir David Gibbons, the leader of the United Bermuda Party — and Burrows was put to death for the assassinations of the Governor, Sir Richard Sharples, and his aide-de-camp, Captain Hugh Sayers. The Governor’s dog, Horsa the Great Dane, was also killed.
Tacklyn was acquitted of the Government House murders but found guilty of the Shopping Centre killings of Mark Doe and Victor Rego, and was executed shortly before Burrows in the early hours of December 2, 1977.
So with that as a pretty grisly backgrounder, why now would or could Britain look to dip its big toe into waters in which no one has paid the ultimate price?
The mess over same-sex marriage was made in Bermuda and should be sorted out by Bermuda. Boris would be better served casting a glance across the Irish Sea, for the last time we checked Northern Ireland had yet to follow the rest of the United Kingdom in legalising same-sex marriage.
To play Big Brother to a smaller yet also self-governing “subordinate” would not go down too well at all.
But not if you believe The Mail on Sunday.
The Sunday newspaper has a mass circulation approaching 1.3 million in Britain, making it the second-highest circulation weekend paper in Britain, after The Sun on Sunday. But as far as universal credibility is concerned, it and the Daily Mail, the sister paper whose ethos it shares, are not to be confused with the “quality press” in Britain — The Times, The Daily Telegraph, The Guardian, the Financial Times and The Independent, which has resided solely online since March 2016.
The final paragraph of the Daily Mail’s Wikipedia description provides a modicum of insight: “The Daily Mail has been widely criticised for its unreliability, as well as printing of sensationalist and inaccurate scare stories of science and medical research and of copyright violations.”
Still trying to get over his foot-in-mouth moment from the state visit to Iran this month to speak on behalf of the detained Nazanin Zaghari-Ratcliffe, an Iranian-British national charged with spying, Boris has his own credibility and suitability issues to contend with.
As an Independent editorial concluded when he appeared to fan the flames in the theocratic republic by suggesting Zaghari-Ratcliffe was merely training journalists: “It would be wrong to move him [from his position] for a mistake for which he has apologised and sought to make amends. But he was a poor choice as Foreign Secretary in the first place, and his handling of the responsibilities of this great office has not been so impressive that he has made a compelling case for long service.
“When the Prime Minister, strengthened by her success in Brussels this week, comes to refashion her Cabinet in due course, there is a strong case for appointing as Foreign Secretary someone with more subtlety, principle and, above all, tact than the present incumbent.”
It can be argued that the Foreign Secretary’s greatest contribution to British life came when as Mayor of London in 2010 he launched the Boris Bikes scheme that has had the effect of popularising cycling through the country.
But it is as a diplomat that Boris is now judged and with his contribution to a worrying Brexit and now the Iran incident on his CV, Bermuda should not be gagging to be used as a tool for “the floundering haircut” to sharpen his teeth.
We have enough problems — and same-sex marriage is but one of them.
The politicians have been beat up enough about this, and we shall beat them up some more. For, quite truthfully, they cocked it up.
When given what proved to be an 18-month head start after Chief Justice Ian Kawaley ruled that gay couples had legal rights to be treated the same as heterosexual couples, they did nothing while all around them engaged in the cattiest of catfights.
The timing of the next General Election was not helpful, for the parties had long shifted into electioneering mode, and what got lost were the people who are truly affected.
Had the One Bermuda Alliance pushed through its Civil Unions Bill, much of today’s fuss might have been about nothing. That Bill, which has been tweaked in areas to now sit as the Domestic Partnership Act as presented by the Progressive Labour Party government, contained much of what gays have been fighting for throughout the 21st century.
It would have put Bermuda in a quite unique position, as being the first country that is significantly slanted against gay marriage — for as far as could be determined through the ill-fated June 2016 referendum — to confer benefits making domestic partnerships marriage in everything but name.
Given the uproar since Parliament passed the Act on to the Governor for Royal Assent, you would have thought that we had retreated to the pre-Stubbs era and banned homosexuality altogether.
“Ashamed” Bermudians and those Bermudians and Bermuda residents who colluded to give #BoycottBermuda wings in social-media circles have done more reputational harm to the country than Walton Brown can have done during his worst excesses.
By putting Bermuda in a spotlight so that even the likes of “Screaming” Howard Dean can take pot shots at us and urge his several thousand Twitter followers to steer clear of an island that he has yet to visit or appreciate, we risk cutting off our nose to spite our face.
The final decision to be made is for the Governor and the Governor alone. He should find the solution far easier to arrive at than the more complex questions to be posed on Quiz Night during his casually low-key forays into the community.
As part of a team, the Governor often would be minded to defer to a colleague’s superior local knowledge, but on the subject of rejecting a government Bill, especially one so emotive, this is one time when he would be ill-advised to leave it to Boris.
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