Multi-Family Office

UK accused of “modern colonialism” by overseas territories

A cross-party amendment to the Sanctions and Anti-Money Laundering Bill in the UK’s House of Commons was accepted after rebel goverment MPs supported the proposed amendment.

This amendment, brought by Labour MP Margaret Hidge and Conservative MP Andrew Mitchell on 1 May 2018, requires the UK’s overseas territories to introduce public registers of beneficial ownership by the end of 2020. If these overseas territories fail to introduce such public registers, the UK government will issue an order-in-council to force these territories to introduce such a public register.

Overseas territories and the Order-in-Council

The UK has fourteen territories that remain under its jurisdiction and sovereignty. They are remnants of the British Empire that have, for one reason or another, remained British terrorities. These territories are Akrotiri and Dhekelia, Anguilla, Bermuda, British Antarctic Territory, British Indian Ocean Territory, British Virgin Islands, Cayman Islands, Falkland Islands, Gibraltar, Montserrat, Pitcairn Islands, Saint Helena, Ascension and Tristan da Cunha, South Georgia and the South Sandwich Islands, and Turks and Caicos Islands.

Those of these territories that are permanently inhabited have internal self-government, but they remain under the jurisdiction and sovereignty of the UK. The UK therefore has the power to force them to adopt UK legislation even though these territories are self-governing. To do so, the UK government would use an order-in-council, legislation in the name of the Queen by and with the advice of the Privy Council. Since the Queen is also the Queen of the UK’s overseas territories, this order-in-council will be binding on them despite their legislative autonomy.

Dispute

Of the British overseas territories, a number of them are reputed to be opaque offshore financial centres. These include Anguilla, Bermuda, British Virgin Islands, Cayman Islands and Gibraltar. There are concerns by UK MPs that these territories are enabling corrupt governments around the world to hide away money stolen from their citizens. Hence, this amendment to make these territories transparent and open to scrutiny. Nonetheless, this amendment has not gone down well with these territories. In fact, on 2 May, Cayman Islands Premier Alden McLaughlin said that the “imposition of legislation, through powers that date back to the colonial era, over and above the wishes of the democratically elected legislative bodies of the Overseas Territories represents a gross affront to the constitutional relationship we currently have with the United Kingdom.”

Be it as it may, a majority of UK MPs was determined to pass this amendment and the current Conservative government was powerless to stop it.