There is much about the Cayman Islands we consider “world-class” – our beautiful beaches, peerless hospitality, our many contributions to the global economy … But if you asked even Cayman’s fiercest champion to list our country’s many virtues, “geopolitical superpower” is not a phrase that would come to mind.
So we were surprised this week to learn just how influential our little islands apparently have become, when Andy Burnham, mayor of Greater Manchester, “name dropped” Cayman in a speech advocating for greater representation for English regions in the U.K.’s Brexit negotiations with the European Union.
“It cannot be right that Britain’s overseas territories, such as the Cayman Islands and the British Virgin Islands, have a permanent seat at the Brexit table whilst we are denied one,” Mr. Burnham said.
The statement was his way of making a case for regions such as Greater Manchester to have a greater role in Brexit negotiations, but it also revealed an embarrassing ignorance about the U.K.’s relationships with overseas territories. To his allegation that Cayman and other OTs have a “disproportionate influence” over Brexit negotiations, we would remind Mr. Burnham, and others who may have forgotten: Our relationship with Mother England is largely a one-way street.
Our governor is a representative to Cayman on behalf of the Queen. In fundamental ways, our Caymanian government is bound by rules over which it has little influence – the Framework for Fiscal Responsibility, for example, or new requirements for sharing information about beneficial ownership. They may or may not be good rules, but they certainly aren’t a product of meaningful “negotiation.”
We aren’t complaining – Cayman made a deliberate decision to stay under the U.K.’s wing even as other territories have flown the coop. In every important aspect, ours is a mutually beneficial arrangement. But it is in no way a marriage of equals. The U.K. has a constitutional and legal responsibility for its overseas territories, including Cayman – a responsibility Mr. Burnham, in his eagerness to use us as a stepping stone for the benefit of his own region’s power and influence, seems to have forgotten.
Like most of the 250,000 residents living in the U.K.’s overseas territories, Caymanians were not allowed to vote on the question of whether to “leave” or “remain” in the European Union.
Yet, we will be directly – and often uniquely – impacted by the decision and the terms of the divorce. It is only fitting for representatives from territories to meet with junior Brexit ministers to discuss concerns and provide perspectives that might otherwise not be considered and addressed.
Issues such as travel and trade, the projected impact on development funds and the future of financial regulations and markets are just a few examples of points of negotiation that will deeply affect our economies and our people. As an international financial center, Cayman and other finance-focused territories face unique challenges which negotiators must consider not only on our behalf, but also for the greater good.
Then again, perhaps Mr. Burnham knows something we do not. Maybe our man in London, Eric Bush, has more influence than we had thought. Perhaps we should embrace our outsized political influence and start making some changes. Where to start?
If someone wants to make Cayman a power broker in international negotiations, we will gladly step up to the role. In the meantime, do not begrudge us our country’s small but vital chance to make our voices heard.