The UK Government has sold the Crown Dependencies and British Overseas Territories down the Swannee and left them to fight for themselves – at precisely the moment at time when they most need its support, says Isle of Man resident and journalist Eddie Power. Below, he explains.
The extent of the UK’s loss of interest in its 17 overseas jurisdictions became abundantly clear yesterday, during a House of Commons debate on tax evasion and avoidance.
The force behind the debate was Dame Margaret Hodge, MP, for Barking, pictured left, who has never hidden her deep-rooted dislike for what she describes as “tax havens”, and the Isle of Man is often at the very bullseye of her target.
This goes back to her Public Accounts Committee sitting in June 2013, when she complained that the BBC and others who, when paying for Media City in Salford, had put money into the coffers of Peel Holdings.
This, noted Hodge, meant that the money had gone to the Isle of Man, the home of Peel Holdings supremo John Whittaker, as though the Isle of Man were a filthy back-channel awash with funny money and characterised by dodgy dealings.
One of the main points that came up during yesterday’s debate was the lack of a public beneficial ownership register, which David Cameron had called for during his time as prime minister.
However, Cameron did ease up slightly and accepted that, while the Crown Dependencies and British Overseas should have beneficial ownership registers, they need only be accessible by taxation authorities and law-enforcement agencies and – crucially – not publicly available.
Cameron batted tolerably robustly for the CDs and BOTs, even taking the opportunity during Prime Minister’s Questions to tell the Commons that the CDs were not tax havens’.
But since his departure it appears Theresa May has little interest in championing the CDs or BOTs, with the only contact seemingly a five-minute photo call outside No. 10 with leaders of the BOTs.
The CDs and BOTs are part of the United Kingdom’s family and as such the UK has responsibilities. Many CDs and BOTs give the impression that they prefer to operate as almost as independent countries, but due to them being small countries with limited economies, support is needed.
We saw this recently writ large, first with the hurricanes that hit the Caribbean BOTs, and then with the Paradise Papers, which has had huge press coverage.
Of course, the UK generously gave financial and military help following the hurricanes, not to mention help with reconstruction and security.
But a more visible and personal display of support such as a visit by the prime minister to the Caribbean Islands would have spoken volumes.
And when it comes to the Paradise Papers, you could put your shirt on it that Cameron would have come out in support of the CDs and BOTs.
Yet at present from Downing Street nothing but a silence-filled void on the matter…
It’s a measure of the government’s indifference to the subject that it only put up the low-profile financial secretary to the Treasury and paymaster general Mel Stride MP – this is not to denigrate Mr Stride, but as responsibility for the CDs falls within the remit of the Justice department and the BOTs, some visible support from the secretaries of state for those departments would have been sent out a welcome message of solidarity.
There is no doubt that there is a keenness in Westminster for the CDs and BOTs to make their beneficial ownership registers public; in particular, Liberal Democrats Leader Vince Cable MP called for sanctions if they do not bring in public registers.
Isle of Man Treasury Minister Alf Cannan MHK commented on Manx Radio that unilaterally bringing in public registers would damage the Island’s business competitiveness. No doubt this is correct, but, if all the CDs and BOTs were told to bring in public registers at the same time it would give all of them a level playing field.
I feel quite sure that this is the sort of action that Cameron would have pushed for; this sort of decision needs a prime minister to stand up and guide the CDs and BOTs through it.
There is every chance in the future the chief ministers and premiers of the CDs and BOTs will have to deal with a Labour government, and it hardly requires forensic political analysis to anticipate that Jeremy Corbyn will be pushing for many changes on tax and perceived tax avoidance, that will make life on these islands politically difficult.
So it’s high time Theresa May stood up to show that the UK stands full square behind her Dependencies and Overseas Territories. To do anything less would be to send out a signal to their residents that the historical links are beginning to unravel…
Eddie Power (pictured above) has lived on the Isle of Man for some 30 years, where he is a political blogger and citizen journalist, specialising in political news from the Crown Dependencies and British Overseas Territories. He is the administrator and editor of Crown Dependency and British Overseas Territories Political News and MHKS THEY WORK FOR YOU, both of which can be found on Facebook and Twitter, and the website MHKS THEY WORK FOR YOU.COM