Manchester mayor: Cayman has greater say in Brexit than UK regions

The mayor of Greater Manchester in northern England said Wednesday that the Cayman Islands and other British overseas territories have more input on Brexit than Manchester and other U.K. regional districts.

Andy Burnham, in a keynote speech in Manchester to the Local Government Association, accused the British government of ignoring regional concerns over Brexit and demanded that England’s regions are given a seat at Brexit negotiations.

Mr. Burnham, a former Labour minister, said local and regional leaders want “equal footing” with Wales, Scotland and Northern Ireland, as well as British overseas territories, when it comes to Brexit talks.

“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,” he said.

He pointed out that Cayman’s population of less than 60,000 is miniscule when compared to Greater Manchester’s population of 2.8 million.

“Greater Manchester is ready to play our part and make a constructive contribution to the process of leaving the European Union,” he said.

Mr. Burnham said if the government “fails to listen to our concerns, it will raise fears that we are heading towards a London-centric Brexit dominated by the City of London and the financial services industry.”

In January, Brexit secretary David Davis told the House of Commons that he would meet with Greater Manchester’s mayor to discuss Brexit after the May general election. Mr. Burnham, in a letter to Mr. Davis on Tuesday, said two months after the election no such meeting had yet taken place.

The Cayman Islands and the other remaining British Overseas Territories have not had a meeting with the U.K. regarding the ongoing Brexit negotiations since February.

However, Premier Alden McLaughlin’s office announced Thursday that he and two other government ministers would travel to the U.K. for pre-Joint Ministerial Council meetings next week, with Brexit being the main focus of the talks. The council is made up of U.K. representatives and leaders from the territories.

“This … is the continued commitment by the U.K. to keep the Cayman Islands and other overseas territories informed on the progress of negotiations and the anticipated next steps,” said Mr. McLaughlin. “It also gives me the opportunity to represent Cayman directly on matters relating to Brexit with U.K. ministers who have a seat at the negotiating table.”

Caymanian British Overseas Territories residents did not get to vote in the Brexit referendum on June 23, 2016 unless they held British citizenship and had retained voting rights. Thus far, the OTs have received little concrete information about how the move to separate from the European Union will affect them.

Premier McLaughlin noted in February that protection of Cayman’s financial services industry following the separation topped the small islands’ list of concerns. He said EU countries had sought to place Cayman on various “black or grey lists,” even after it had attempted to cooperate on tax enforcement and anti-money laundering efforts. Because of this, Mr. McLaughlin said it was important for the U.K. to be a “moderating voice” both before and after the EU exit occurs.

Both Premier McLaughlin and new Financial Services Minister Tara Rivers are expected to attend next week’s meetings. Newly appointed Finance Minister Roy McTaggart will also attend, although he is expected to discuss government finance matters with U.K. officials.

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