A pall has been cast over what was supposed to be a celebratory event in London early next week marking the 60-year anniversary of the Cayman Islands coat-of-arms following a vote in the U.K. House of Commons that many observers believe will do serious damage to Cayman’s financial services industry.
The vote taken on May 1 to amend Britain’s Sanctions and Anti-Money Laundering Bill seeks to force British Overseas Territories – but not U.K. Crown Dependencies – to make registers of company owners public. Cayman already has such a registry, but it may only be accessed via specific requests from law enforcement or taxation authorities.
Although he vehemently disagreed with the vote in the Commons, Premier Alden McLaughlin said this week that he would still travel with a sizable contingent to London for the two-day event honoring the creation of Cayman’s coat-of-arms which was approved by Her Majesty’s command on May 14, 1958. The event includes a reception at the U.K. Foreign and Commonwealth Office Monday and a luncheon on Tuesday.
“Plans are to promote our links with the United Kingdom, as well as tell the fantastic success story of the Cayman Islands,” Mr. McLaughlin said in a speech to the Cayman Islands Legislative Assembly on March 16, announcing a two-year slate of events to celebrate both Cayman’s British heritage and its local culture, which also will mark the 60-year anniversary of Cayman’s original 1959 constitution.
On Thursday, Mr. McLaughlin said he intended to use the trip next week to meet with U.K. officials in the wake of the May 1 House of Commons vote. He said he has written to U.K. Prime Minister Theresa May to request a meeting during what is expected to be a week-long visit.
A number of Cayman leaders will attend Monday’s and Tuesday’s events, including Speaker of the House McKeeva Bush, Opposition Leader Ezzard Miller, and MLAs Barbara Conolly, Capt. Eugene Ebanks and Chris Saunders.
Speaker Bush, not always the U.K.’s most vocal supporter within the local government, said his participation in next week’s events would have “nothing to do with the infamous bill of destruction,” – as he termed the Sanctions and Anti-Money Laundering legislation.
While they will not get a chance to sit in on meetings with U.K. officials next week, lawmakers, including Mr. Saunders, were questioning financial services officials Thursday on why Cayman’s lobbying representation in Britain could not be more robust.
“The Labour Party has been running a very successful campaign against the ‘tax havens’,” Mr. Saunders said during Thursday’s meeting of the Legislative Assembly’s Public Accounts Committee. “What kind of big guns do we need? It seems like we’re busy looking at the Americans … and we got caught out in the U.K.”
Ministry of Financial Services Chief Officer Dax Basdeo, responding to Mr. Saunders, said he could not suggest that the May 1 House of Commons vote came “as a surprise.” London Office Director Eric Bush publicly warned Cayman about it in January after two previous attempts by the U.K. to insert similar language into financial crime-related bills were defeated in the Commons and the House of Lords.
Mr. Basdeo said Cayman had made a “sustained” effort over the past five years to meet with U.K. parliamentarians “in favor and not in favor of the Cayman Islands.” He said the challenge that still remains is “getting in front of the right stakeholder groups.”
Public Accounts Committee Chairman Ezzard Miller, who will be attending the London trip next week, urged Cayman law firms and financial service providers to get behind U.K. lobbying efforts and speak to a wider range of publications rather than just trade magazines.
“The average person on the street doesn’t read the industry magazines, we have to start fighting them on their own front,” Mr. Miller said.
Neither Mr. Basdeo, whose ministry is responsible for government’s role in the financial services industry, nor Financial Services Minister Tara Rivers will attend next week’s functions in the U.K.
Ms. Rivers is expected to head to Brussels, Belgium, the week after next for meetings with the European Union leadership, where Cayman faces another international battle over the EU’s “blacklist” of jurisdictions it believes are noncompliant with existing financial services and tax reporting rules. Cayman has so far managed to stay off the list, following a vote of the EU’s finance ministers last December.