Cayman Islands representative grilled about UK relationship

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Eric Bush answers questions from the House of Commons Select Committee

LONDON, England (CNS) — Eric Bush, the Cayman Islands representative in London, was asked if the Cayman Islands was on a collision course with the British government over the issue of beneficial ownership when he faced questions from UK members of parliament on Tuesday, when he appeared before the House of Commons Foreign Affairs Select Committee.

The committee is reviewing Britain’s relationship with all its territories, which were invited to submit contributions about potential improvements and give evidence this week. One of Cayman’s stated priority suggestions is protection from “future constitutional overreach” by the UK parliament, triggered by the beneficial ownership row, which was a key part of the questioning.

Bush argued that the Cayman Islands shared the same goal as Britain in fighting money laundering, terrorist financing and corruption, but the recent act in the British Parliament that has led to the potential imposition of a beneficial ownership register betrayed years of constructive conversation.

He pointed out that Cayman had already come to an agreement with Britain, and it was part of a disconnect in the management of the relationship between the two governments that led to the disbelief on the Cayman side over the amendment to the sanctions and anti-money laundering legislation and the frustration in the UK parliament about what Cayman does.

Bush did not say definitively when asked by several committee members about whether or not Cayman would abide by an order-in-council.

He told Mike Gapes MP that the conversations between Britain and Cayman continued. Bush said he was not qualified to answer whether or not the UK would have to trigger the order-in-council to make Cayman comply, and stressed that the Cayman Islands had until the end of 2020 before the legislation passed in the UK required the territories to implement public registers.

When Gapes asked if the comments by the Cayman Islands premier about not sitting quietly and accepting the plans for a public register indicated Cayman was on a collision course with the British government and the parliament, Bush said he could not answer that. The Cayman Island UK-based representative said the premier sets government policy but he was a civil servant and “it was not for me to say”, when asked if the Cayman government would accept the British legislation.

Chair of the committee, Tom Tugendhat, pointed out that some BOTs like Cayman arguably had better quality information on their registers and it was clear that there is a lot the UK could learn from them, but he said the change in attitude was no longer about tax evasion but national security.

Focusing on Russian money in particular, he pointed out that some funds going through offshore centres were now being used in a way that presented a security threat way beyond tax dodging. He said some of the dirty money was being spent on undermining Britain and its allies and interfering with the fabric of society.

“This is no longer a financial matter but a national security matter,” he said, as he sought to explain why parliament had acted as it had with the amendment to the Sanctions and Anti-Money Laundering Bill.

In addition to dealing with the issue of public registers, during his appearance Bush also spoke about Brexit, how the FCO deals with territories, Cayman’s strong connection to Britain, same-sex marriage, global Britain, the contingent liability and the state of the islands’ finances, as well as the need for the constitutional relationship between the UK and Cayman to be reformed.

In a press release about Bush’s appearance, Premier Alden McLaughlin said the government welcomed the opportunity to contribute to the review.

“There are few such opportunities for us to actively contribute to open discussions about our place in the United Kingdom family of nations, and in light of recent questionable legislative activities, it is of paramount importance to us to review and improve our constitutional relationship with the United Kingdom,” he said. “As a small islands state we punch well above our weight as a leading place to live, visit and do business. To assure this, we understand the need to be outward facing to global opportunities and challenges.”

The premier’s office also revealed the list of submissions it made in writing to the committee. As well as safeguards from constitutional overreach the Cayman government made the following suggestions:

• The UK government should facilitate ministerial engagement from the government of the Cayman Islands with requisite UK government ministers and departments, so the international community and relevant forums are reassured we are being represented in keeping with the UK’s obligations.

• An invitation for the UK government to review ministerial responsibility in relation to the government of the Cayman Islands, including designation of ministers in each relevant department to ensure total cross-Whitehall participation as required.

• That the Cabinet Office work to integrate the British Overseas Territories requirements into the existing COBRA civil contingencies frameworks and engage with British Overseas Territory representatives in London on a regular basis as well as in emergency situations.

• That the UK assesses the suitability of moving to the Australian State Governor appointment process whereby the Crown directly appoints the governor instead of the FCO and the appointment of the governor be subject to the veto of the government of the Cayman Islands.

• That the Cabinet Office, through the Commonwealth Secretariat, makes every effort to involve the government of the Cayman Islands on all elements of Commonwealth engagement, with the exception at this time of full membership.

• That every effort be made by the UK government to improve the standing of the position of the British Overseas Territory representative.

Bush told the committee on Tuesday that he could not answer questions about the territory’s position on same-sex marriage because of a case currently going through the local courts.

When former overseas territories minister Chris Bryant asked Bush about the issue of gay marriage, Bush declined to comment because he is a civil servant.

Bryant quizzed Bush, who had spoken a great deal about the Cayman Islands being British, about Cayman’s failure to recognise the legal marriages of same-sex couples, and asked him why the territory still wants to be British so much when it does not subscribe to British values like marriage equality.

“The issue of same-sex marriage is subject to legal challenge in the Cayman Islands, currently, so it would be inappropriate for me to expand on that,” Bush told Bryant, and when pressed, he refused to submit anything further.

Bryant asked Bush his own view on same-sex marriage, but the Cayman representative responded, “I am a civil servant and it would be inappropriate for me to give an opinion on behalf of the Cayman Islands on any government policy.”

Bush was accompanied by Dr Peter Clegg, an associate professor in Politics and International Relations at the University of the West of England, who explained that there had been historic challenges with the Caribbean British territories over these issues.

Clegg said on the marriage issue, the Caribbean, including the British territories, was divergent from the British government policy and approach in general because certain groups, including church groups, are pushing very strongly against it. However, he said that the judicial route may be a way that things start to change.

But Bryant said it seemed that Cayman wanted to have its cake and eat it, noting, “You want to be part of the British umbrella but not part of British life.”

Bryant, who is in a same-sex marriage, was the overseas territories minister in 2010, when he became the first homosexual MP to enter into a civil partnership in a ceremony held in the Houses of Parliament.

Republished with permission of Cayman News Service

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