The British Overseas Territories have condemned a UK Government proposal to compel the jurisdictions to publicly disclose the beneficial ownership of legal entities established in their territories.
Opposition amendments to the UK Sanctions and Anti-Money Laundering Bill, which were approved this week by the House of Commons, will require the 14 overseas territories, including Bermuda, the British Virgin Islands, and the Cayman Islands, to introduce public ownership registers by the end of 2020 or face having the requirement legally imposed by the UK Government.
Similar amendments were tabled in respect of Jersey, Guernsey, and the Isle of Man but have since been withdrawn.
Bermuda’s Prime Minister, David Burt, said the UK Parliament’s action signaled a return to „base colonialism“ and was a significant „backwards step“ in relations between the UK and the overseas territories. He said the amendments fail to acknowledge Bermuda’s long history of full internal self-government, and that his government will take the necessary steps to ensure Bermuda’s Constitution is respected.
Cayman Islands‘ Premier, Alden McLaughlin, echoed Burt’s sentiments saying his territory is deeply aggrieved by the UK Government’s acceptance of the amendments and left open the possibility of a legal challenge. He described 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, as a „gross affront“ to the current constitutional relationship between the Cayman Islands and the UK. He also noted that central public registers are not the global standard, but that the Cayman Islands is ready to implement a central register if the global standard changes.
Although not impacted by the amendments, the Crown Dependencies have also urged the UK to respect the current constitutional arrangements with the Isle of Man, Jersey, and Guernsey. Howard Quayle, Chief Minister of the Isle of Man, said last week that his government would resist any attempt to impose legislation on the island without its consent.