Two days of showdown talks have been planned for the leaders of British overseas territories and UK ministers in order to discuss the decision to end secrecy for offshore tax havens. The British Virgin Islands delegation to London was led by deputy premier, Dr Kedrick Pickering who is in favour of independence from the UK.
This follows the vote in May to impose public registers of share ownership in British overseas territories. The vote was met with resistance including street protests, calls for constitutional separation and boycotts of the Queen’s birthday celebrations. Over 1,000 people protested in the British Virgin Islands against the change in law.
Tackling tax avoidance
The British government has been under increasing pressure in years following the Panama and Paradise Papers scandals to clamp down on offshore tax avoidance.
Andrew Mitchell, former Conservative international development secretary said: “The overseas territories share our queen, they travel under our flag and they must also share our values.” He intends to get the legislation extended to other crown dependencies including the Isle of Man and Jersey.
British overseas territories include the British Virgin Islands, Cayman Islands, Bermuda and Turks and Caicos. They fear that ending tax secrecy will undermine financial industries that the territories depend on as investors will move their money elsewhere.
The territories claim that the vote infringes on their constitutional right to oversee their own legislation.
Hussein Haeri, partner and head of Withers’ public international law firm said: “We are confident that there are constitutional grounds for challenging the imposition of a public register of the beneficial ownership of companies and human rights issues raised by public access to the register.
“The BVI’s consistent position is that it will not introduce public registers unless and until they become a global standard.”
The Premier of the Cayman Islands, Alden McLaughlin described the Commons vote as “reminiscent of the worst injustices of a bygone era of colonial despotism”. He added: “We want to remove that ability for the UK to be able to randomly legislate for us.”
The Premier of Bermuda also said they would implement a public register only if it becomes a global standard but until then, “this country does not recognize the right of the United Kingdom parliament to legislate on matters which are internal affairs reserved to Bermuda under its constitution.”
What did you think of the vote in May? Do you support the overseas territories arguments or believe they should remain subject to UK law? Please share your thoughts in the comments section.
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An experienced business and finance writer, sometimes moonlighting as a fiction writer and blogger.