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The Kingdom

The Colonies

Britain still has 13 colonies, now known as British Overseas Territories. The most significant colony that the UK retained, Hong Kong, was returned to China in 1997.

Gibraltar, however, is still governed by Britain almost 300 years after it was ceded by Spain. Most of the 30,000 people of Gibraltar wish that to continue. It is likely, nonetheless, that a British government embarrassed by Spanish claims for the return of the 2 ½ square miles, will agree some form of joint sovereignty with Spain.

Five British overseas territories, Gibraltar, Anguilla, the British Virgin Islands, the Turks & Caicos Islands and Montserrat, were included in an Organisation for Economic Co-operation & Development draft "blacklist" of tax havens with inadequate financial supervision published in June 2000.

The Commonwealth of Nations

There are 53 (mostly) former colonies in the Commonwealth. Thirty of them are republics, seven have their own monarch and sixteen have Britain's queen Windsor as head of state.

It's a motley crew. If they were individuals you would be more than nervous about meeting some of them on a dark and lonely street. Freedom House classifies 4 as "not free". Another 19 are "partly free". The final 30 are "free".

In 2014 one of these "unfree" Commonwealth nations, Brunei, announced that it would start to impose strict sharia-based laws. Citizens may be jailed or fined for being pregnant outside of marriage or not joining Friday prayers. Eventually there will be amputation for theft and whipping for the drinking of alcohol.

Several of those Commonwealth nations that accept Windsor as head of state are moving towards becoming republican democracies. In a referendum in 1999 Australians voted against becoming a republic for the time being. The republican movement there is still strong, however. New Zealand is also likely to end its link to the British monarchy before long.

In Belize a government commission has questioned the country's tie to the British monarchy. It noted that the nation's "Constitution states that Belize is a sovereign democratic state. Yet we have a Head of State who represents what is just the opposite of democracy: a hereditary monarchy." However, the Commission did not come to a conclusion on this question and made no recommendation, partly because of anxiety that ending the link with the monarchy would jeopardise Britain's security guarantees to the small nation.

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