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.
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2 Current overseas territories
3 Former crown colonies
Stages of colonial evolution
Current overseas territories
In addition there are the Sovereign Base Areas of Akrotiri and Dhekelia in Cyprus.
- British Antarctic Territory
- British Indian Ocean Territory
- British Virgin Islands
- Cayman Islands
- Falkland Islands
- Pitcairn Islands
- Saint Helena
- South Georgia and the South Sandwich Islands
- Sovereign Base Areas of Akrotiri and Dhekelia in Cyprus
- Turks and Caicos Islands
Former crown colonies
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.
See also British Empire.