LONDON, England (CNS) — Britain’s Foreign and Commonwealth Office (FCO) stated in submissions to the House of Commons Foreign Affairs Select Committee that it believes the current balance of power between the UK and its overseas territories (OTs) is broadly the right one.
The document, submitted ahead of this week’s hearings by the committee reviewing the relationship with the UK and the British Overseas Territories, makes it clear that, while the FCO understands the concerns some leaders have about the proposed imposition of public registers in their jurisdictions, it is unlikely that Britain will be giving up its power to legislate for its remaining colonies.
The Cayman Islands government is currently seeking a meeting with the British government to put its case to remove, or at the very least substantially rewrite, the final section of the constitution, which gives the UK a blanket right to legislate for its territories, even in areas that have been devolved to local governments, when Britain believes its own interests are at risk.
Sources close to the FCO in London recently told CNS that the UK will not accept the removal of section 125 of the Constitution and is also not likely to approve anything more than a minor re-wording that will ultimately see Britain retain its powers. And in this latest document, the FCO makes it clear that remaining British is a choice that comes with conditions.
“The choice to remain a British OT involves responsibilities and benefits for the OTs,” officials wrote in the 12-page submission. “The UK government believes the current constitutional balance of powers is broadly the right one. As sovereign power, the UK must retain sufficient powers to enable us to discharge our constitutional and international responsibilities both to OT populations and in international fora.”
Officials acknowledged the proposals for constitutional reform to address the concern over the changes to the Sanctions and Anti-Money Laundering Act passed in May. The law now requires all territories to introduce a register before the end of 2020 that will allow public access to information about who actually benefits from the companies domiciled in Cayman and the other overseas territories providing financial services. It also recognises “the ill-feeling created in the OTs” in the wake of the law’s passage in parliament earlier this year.
“Many OT governments felt that Parliament had interfered in an area of their devolved responsibility,” the FCO said, but noted that improving transparency around ownership information is now a key part of the government’s anti-corruption strategy. “The aim of the international beneficial ownership campaign agreed by ministers in the summer is to improve transparency and raise international standards and norms.”
While the UK has asked the OT governments to submit detailed written proposals for consideration over their constitutions, the FCO said it made clear its position “that we believe the current balance of powers is broadly the right one. Our strategy – as set out in the White Paper – is to ensure that the constitutional arrangements work effectively to promote the best interests of the OTs and of the UK. The majority of the OT constitutions were updated between 2006 and 2011.”
Cayman Islands Premier Alden McLaughlin had said earlier this year, following the passage of the controversial law, that he was pushing for talks with the UK about constitutional reform as soon as possible and had asked them for a timeline back in June. But no date has yet been set for the meeting, and since it is now only a matter of weeks before the annual Overseas Territories Joint Ministerial Council in London, it is unlikely that the talks will take place before then.
The document submitted by the FCO talks largely in broad terms about its relationship with the territories and its obligations to them, from security to assisting territories to meet challenges and opportunities.
But it also notes the obligations that territories have on issues such as environmental protection, good governance and human rights, and notes that while several territories have already passed laws to introduce same-sex partnerships, its Caribbean territories have been slow to implement any kind of marriage equality for same-sex couples.
“Change in the Caribbean territories is notably slower and rights to same-sex marriage are being contested in the Bermuda and Cayman courts,” the FCO said. “The UK government has been clear that the OTs must fulfil their international obligations on the issue of LGBT equality. Encouraging legislative change continues to be a priority.”
Republished with permission of Cayman News Service