No reprieve for Overseas Territories today (21 May) as the House of Lords accepts the contentious Sanctions and Anti-Money Laundering Bill amendment seeking to force creation of public beneficial ownership registries on overseas territories by 2020.
This means public registries of owners of businesses and assets here in Cayman will have to be made public by 2020 or face it being imposed by orders in council from the UK.
We reached out to Premier Hon. Alden McLaughlin for comment on today’s development, we are yet to hear back.
Today the Bill made its way to the House of Lords where Foreign and Commonwealth Office Minister Lord Ahmad introduced the amendment agreed to in the House of Commons.
However the law changes were not given easy passage as a motion seeking to remove the amendment altogether was put forward for debate by Lord Naseby, Vice President of the All-Party Parliament Goup (Cayman.)
The motion was hotly debated by members of the House of Lords in defence of Overseas Terrortories.
Lord Naseby made the case for the Cayman Islands pointing to this country’s record of compliance and continued efforts to meet and surpass international regulations.
He shared that Cayman has received legal advice from two Queens Counsels, Sir Jeffrey Jowell and Lord Pannick, that if Orders in Council are to be issued they agree that there is a “very strong case” for judicial review in the Courts and on appeal ,the Privy Council, as it would be unlawful.
He argued it was breach of the constitutional order the UK agreed to with Cayman and the overseas territories were being “hung out to dry.”
He also told the House Premier Hon. Alden McLaughlin has told UK Prime Minister Theresa May there should be a review of the current Constitution Order to “put safeguards” against overreaching by the UK as has been done in this case.
“This is a very wrong approach to address money laundering,” he added.
He was supported by Lord Neuberger Abbotsbury who made it clear he was not pleased with the approach adopted by the Government in accepting the admendment put forward by MPs Margaret Hodge and Andrew Mitchell.
“I regret to say that the proposed law appears to be old-style colonialism at its worst: damaging legislation which has no cost for the legislating country, but which will cause hardship to the victim countries, and does so not merely without representation but without consultation or full investigation,” he argued.
However Lord Anderson Swansea rejected the arguments.
While he said there should be consideration of the impact the law changes would have, he was not sympathetic when it came to possible threats of independence by overseas territories.
“At the same time, the economic impact should be recognised, along with the possible damage to the constitutional position. If those countries wish to go independent, so be it. Fairly recently there was a report on the contingent liabilities to the British taxpayer of the overseas territories. I wonder where the balance would lie, if a number of these countries went independent, regarding the amount currently spent by the British taxpayer,” he contended.
At the end of the lengthy debate Lord Ahmad said the government will maintain its position on the amendement, which he said, was the will of the House of Commons majority.
He said the UK government will collaborate and cooperate with the Overseas Territiories on the issue. He asked Lord Naseby withdraw the motion, which he did, allowing for the amendment to be accepted.
Meanwhile Opposition MLA Chris Saunders, in an immediate reaction to today’s decision, said the outcome was no surprise and “was consistent with what was discussed at the meeting in London with Lord Ahmad last week.”
He said he was deeply disappointment with what he described as the “cavalier approach taken Lord Anderson in today’s debate.”
“It highlights the ignorance of many lawmakers in the UK and confirms what many of us have believed to be the inherent racism that exists among some British policymakers,” the Bodden Town West MLA said.
He said, it is clear that the UK intend to ensure that the Crown Dependancies are given a competitive advantage over the Overseas Territories “and this should be a clear wake up call to many people in the Cayman Islands that the door to independence swings both ways. For too long many believe that this is a decision to be made by people in the Cayman Islands alone.”
He said 2 years ago the majority of people in the UK voted to leave the EU and “it is just a matter of time before they vote to leave the Kindgom altogether.”
Mr. Saunders said he agreed with Lord Naseby that Cayman has a strong case for judicial review “as I believe that this amendment goes against privacy that is guaranteed in our Constitution, that was approved by the British parliament, and I support the Goverment’s action moving forward with this judicial review.”