Constitutional talks between Britain and the Cayman Islands set for next month

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UK and Cayman Islands flags outside Government Administration Building, George Town

GEORGE TOWN, Cayman Islands (CNS) — After almost six months of trying to secure a meeting with the British government to discuss the constitutional relationship between the Cayman Islands and the UK, Premier Alden McLaughlin has confirmed that talks have now been set for next month.

McLaughlin said that after the Overseas Territories Joint Ministerial Council meeting in London, he will head a delegation to persuade the UK that the 2009 Constitution needs to be revised to secure “autonomous capacity in domestic affairs” for the Cayman Islands government following what he has called the constitutional overreach regarding the beneficial ownership registry controversy.

The premier will be joined by opposition leader Ezzard Miller and his deputy, in a show of unity as they attempt to secure a new constitutional agreement that will see the UK’s power confined to the enforcement and the implementation of international obligations and where the Cayman Islands is not in breach of international standards, the power of internal self-governance is absolute.

In a statement to the Legislative Assembly on Thursday morning, McLaughlin said that while the UK had agreed to discuss the matter, there had been considerable back and forth on how to progress the talks and no date had been set.

But finally last week the UK agreed to meet the delegation on Friday, December 7.

The decision by government to seek a constitutional change was triggered by the passage of an amendment to the Sanctions and Anti Money Laundering Bill in the UK that required the British Overseas Territories with a financial services sector to establish public registers of beneficial ownership before 31 December 2020. If the territories fail to do so, the law requires Britain to issue an order in council, changing local laws to force the implementation of registers.

McLaughlin has said that he does not accept that the United Kingdom Parliament has the right to legislate for the Cayman Islands when it comes to domestic matters that are already devolved and he is supported by the opposition leader. In his statement, he once again expressed his concern about the constitutional overreach.

“Not just because of the public beneficial ownership issue it is trying to force on us,” he said. “It is also concerning because with the UK Parliament now believing that it can legislate for us in a fashion that, based on longstanding constitutional convention, it previously accepted that it should not, the parliament may feel emboldened to do so again in the future on any number of matters that it sees fit.”

McLaughlin said the vote in the UK House of Commons “represented a line that, once crossed, cannot be uncrossed.”

With the government and the opposition “of one mind” in the need for safeguards, the premier said he appreciated the bipartisanship displayed over the issue and that it was “important that we in this House are fully in agreement”.

The premier has already discussed the issue with the Constitution Commission, the attorney general and constitutional legal advisers, he told the LA, and goal was “to put the Cayman Islands in the best possible position constitutionally to govern our own affairs, to resist constitutional overreach by the UK government and Parliament, and to continue to thrive and prosper as a modern, progressive and successful democracy”.

He explained that the delegation would seek to have the constitution clarified to ensure the government has autonomous capacity in respect of domestic affairs and that the UK Parliament will not legislate, directly or indirectly, without consultation or, in matters of domestic autonomy, without the consent of the Cayman Islands.

“This matches the objectives of the 2012 White Paper and endorses its balance between self-determination and the responsibilities of the UK,” he said. “We believe it should be made clear that the UK’s power over international affairs be confined to the enforcement and implementation of clear international obligations of the United Kingdom alone and that it also be made clear that, provided the Cayman Islands is not in breach of international standards, the power of internal self-governance is absolute and that the power of disallowance with respect to legislation passed by the Legislative Assembly of the Cayman Islands be removed, as is the case with the Gibraltar Constitution.”

The proposals are not intended to secure the Cayman Islands’ independence, the premier stated, or usurp the UK’s proper role in external affairs, or even to attain a degree of autonomy beyond the accepted status of the Crown Dependencies, but rather to secure autonomy in domestic affairs.

The premier said that he would keep the Legislative Assembly and the country up to date on the issue and that, before any final safeguards to the constitution are agreed, any proposed revisions will be debated in the Legislative Assembly.

Republished with permission of Cayman News Service

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