Cayman Islands Premier Alden McLaughlin confirmed Thursday that he participated in a series of private meetings this week with U.K. Prime Minister Theresa May and her “de-facto deputy” MP David Lidington to discuss matters surrounding Cayman’s financial services industry and its constitutional arrangement with Britain.
Mr. McLaughlin said he met with Ms. May and Mr. Lidington together once and had two follow-up meetings with Mr. Lidington, who has responsibility for constitutional matters.
The premier said discussions were ongoing Thursday and that he intended to make a public statement concerning the talks after he arrived back in Cayman.
Mr. McLaughlin said earlier that he intended to meet with Ms. May if possible during a trip to the U.K. this week to celebrate the 60th anniversary of Cayman’s coat of arms. The trip came on the heels of a disastrous vote – from Cayman’s perspective – in the U.K. House of Commons that sought to require all British Overseas Territories to adopt public registries of company owners.
Cayman has such a registry now, but it is not available to the general public. Access to the current registry is made available only to certain law enforcement agencies and taxing entities upon request.
Although Cayman and the 13 other overseas territories are required by Dec. 31, 2020, to have open public registers of companies’ beneficial owners, the three Crown Dependencies of Guernsey, Jersey and the Isle of Man will not. If the territories do not adopt the public register by that date, it was agreed that the U.K. government should draft orders to force them to do so.
Mr. McLaughlin has previously spoken out about the “prejudicial nature” of the decision, which was added via an amendment to the U.K.’s Sanctions and Anti-Money Laundering Bill by the May 1 vote in the Commons.
The acrimonious beneficial ownership registry discussion and controversial parliamentary vote occurred just two weeks before Caymanian politicians and other representatives were due to head to London for the celebratory anniversary gathering.
Pictures of the 60th anniversary coat-of-arms events held at the U.K. Foreign and Commonwealth Office earlier in the week – particularly those that showed Mr. McLaughlin twisting rope and Speaker of the House McKeeva Bush wearing a straw hat in Durbar Court – provided ready fodder for Mr. McLaughlin’s political opponents in online chat forums and talk radio during the past few days.
Speaker Bush, who was not involved in the meetings with Ms. May and Mr. Lidington, said Thursday that he believed such statements were political cheap shots at the premier.
“There is no one on island or otherwise working any harder than the premier, and he is proving he is not going to be run over in his defense of our financial services,” Mr. Bush said. “The political hacks and wannabes can stop their hasty accusations and summarizing without the full facts. If they have no solutions to offer, then shut up [and] pray.”
To date, the U.K. government has not made any further statements concerning the company registers in the territories. Britain has such an open public company register, but the information in it is unverified.
The Sanctions and Anti-Money Laundering Bill containing the amendments approved by the Commons on May 1 is due to go to the House of Lords Monday for what is expected to be a largely procedural vote.
The minister with responsibility for the U.K. Foreign and Commonwealth Office, Sir Alan Duncan, said earlier this month that he was aware of the response that could be provoked by the May 1 vote in the Commons.
“I therefore … give the overseas territories the fullest possible assurance that we will work very closely with them in shaping and implementing the order in council which this act of parliament might require,” he said.
Sir Alan further promised all the “legal and logistical support” the territories might ask of the U.K.