As U.K. voters go to the polls Thursday for the second time in two years, many Brits in Cayman have already cast their votes and are waiting anxiously to see whether Prime Minister Theresa May or her Labour rival Jeremy Corbyn will emerge victorious.
All 650 seats in the House of Commons up for grabs. A party needs to win 326 seats to form a majority government.
Despite two recent terror attacks in Manchester and London, Britain’s exit from the European Union has remained among the key talking points for politicians.
Prime Minister May called the snap election, hoping to increase the Conservatives majority in the House of Commons, believing this would strengthen her hand in negotiations over the terms of Britain’s exit from the European Union.
However, all has not gone to plan, as Mr. Corbyn’s Labour Party closed the gap considerably in the polls before election day.
The result could have repercussions for the Cayman Islands as a Crown territory.
Ms. May has spoken in the past about pulling the U.K., and by extension its territories, out of the European Convention on Human Rights, a decision that could affect the legal landscape in Cayman on a host of issues from criminal sentencing to gay rights.
Mr. Corbyn has been the most outspoken critic of offshore financial centers, going as far as expressing support for U.K. direct rule over its territories to force them to “obey U.K. tax law.”
Though it is not clear if or how this could be achieved, the prospect of a Labour victory is a sobering thought for some in the financial industry.
Anthony Travers, chairman of the Cayman Islands Stock Exchange, hopes and expects the ruling Conservatives to emerge victorious.
He added, “It is not difficult to say that if Labour with Mr. Corbyn were to win the election that it would be very negative for the Cayman Islands and other overseas territories in the offshore financial services area. Mr. Corbyn has previously expressed the view that he would seek to introduce taxation in the overseas territories.”
He said Mr. Corbyn was advised by the Tax Justice Network, which he accused of “consistently and negatively” mischaracterizing the offshore financial services industry, and warned that the campaign group would continue to exert an outsized influence on British left-wing politics in the absence of effective public relations from Cayman.
Nicholas Dixey, a British lawyer with NEL Law and an avid follower of U.K. politics, also expects a Conservative win, though not the landslide victory many of their supporters hope for.
He said a Conservative victory would likely mean “business as usual” for Cayman.
“A left-wing Labour government led by Jeremy Corbyn, however, is another kettle of fish altogether,” he said. “His rhetoric is that the Cayman Islands is an offshore tax haven where companies incorporate and wealthy individuals invest to avoid paying their fair share of tax in the U.K. Expect immediate renewed pressure on the Cayman Islands to sign up to a public register of beneficial ownership if Labour are returned.” One area where an increased Conservative majority could impact the Cayman Islands is the European Convention on Human Rights.
Britain’s exit from the European Union does not impact the jurisdiction of the European courts in human rights matters. However, Prime Minister May has previously suggested the U.K. should also pull out of the convention. The recent terror attacks in Manchester and London prompted renewed speculation that Ms. May would seek to free Britain, and by association its territories, from those laws in order to facilitate a more hard-line response to terror threats in the U.K.
Mr. Dixey added, “Theresa May’s antipathy for the ECHR is well documented, and it is little surprise that the latest atrocities in Manchester and London have allowed her to restate her concerns. I do not think that withdrawal will happen, however, as the proposal would be too much even for most backbench Tories to support.”
The Brexit debate has been the key topic, and the principal reason for the 2017 election.
Mr. Dixey believes it was a shrewd move for Ms. May to call a snap election in an effort to take advantage of a “hopelessly divided” Labour party under “old-fashioned left-wing leader” Mr. Corbyn.
“However, although the Conservative plan was a good one, it has been executed very poorly,” he added.
He said a lackluster and negative campaign, including the failure of Ms. May to appear in a televised debate and relentless personal attacks on Mr. Corbyn, contributed to a diminishing lead in the polls.
“In contrast, Labour’s manifesto has been upbeat and positive, and the campaign has been based on hope rather than fear,” Mr. Dixey said. “Labour strategists have been focusing on younger voters, students and those who feel alienated and disenfranchised from the Westminster elite. It is very unlikely to be enough. The smart money is on a Conservative majority to be returned, but it may not be the landslide the Tories hoped for.”
Despite the snap election, voters in Cayman said they had no trouble casting a vote or nominating a proxy in time for the poll.
Paul Reynolds, a pastor at the First Baptist Church in Cayman, missed out on voting in the 2015 general election because his postal ballot did not arrive on time. He said there had been no such issues this time. He expects to see a Conservative victory on Thursday.
“I think many more people would like to vote Labour than will because Corbyn doesn’t come across to most folks as a viable leader of our country,” he said. “The Conservatives have been really unpopular, yet maintained a huge lead over Labour until recently, so I don’t think Labour can bring it back far enough to stop a Tory majority government.”
Matthew Sloane, who works with Hurley’s Media, said he nominated a proxy to vote for him on Thursday. He would like to see Labour win and reverse “rampant” cuts to public services.
“I believe in higher taxes and increased spending. I am happy to pay more if society benefits. Any reasonable person should be happy to pay tax.
“As for here? A Labour government under Corbyn would attempt to remove all tax exempt status and it’s probably about time. There is no reasonable argument for not paying tax yet still receiving public services.”
Cayman’s politicians, perhaps fatigued from the island’s own general election last month, have had little to say about the U.K. poll.
McKeeva Bush, now Speaker of the House in Cayman, struck a neutral tone: “I have some very good friends in the major parties and I wish them well. We are tremendously shaken by the presence of the kind of terrorism that exists in the U.K. and we pray for a healing of the land.”