EDITORIAL – Hurricane Corbyn? Brexit tempest could become a Cat 5 storm

“Brexit should be about opportunity and hope. It should be a chance to do things differently, to be more nimble and dynamic, and to maximise the particular advantages of the UK as an open, outward-looking global economy.

“That dream is dying, suffocated by needless self-doubt.”

— Boris Johnson

Because of continuing delays over the United Kingdom’s withdrawal from the European Union, U.K. foreign secretary Boris Johnson and Brexit secretary David Davis have conducted an exit of their own – from U.K. Prime Minister Theresa May’s foundering government.

Whether it’s due to a lack of negotiating prowess or a lukewarm-at-best commitment to pursuing a Brexit deal, the fact remains that May has failed to devise an exit strategy that is in keeping with the spirit of the directive issued by the British electorate two years ago: namely, their desire to leave the European Union and reestablish control of their country’s own affairs.

Ms. May may not have called for the vote (her predecessor David Cameron did) nor agreed personally with the outcome, but as the elected leader it is her duty to carry out the will of the people, once expressed. If she is not prepared to or capable of doing so, it is she who should be submitting a letter of resignation.

As Mr. Johnson wrote in his resignation letter: “It is more than two years since the British people voted to leave the European Union on an unambiguous and categorical promise that if they did so they would be taking back control of their democracy.

“They were told that they would be able to manage their own immigration policy, repatriate the sums of UK cash currently spent by the EU, and, above all, that they would be able to pass laws independently and in the interests of the people of this country.”

Instead, they and the rest of the world have watched as the U.K.’s political establishment, led by May and an entrenched elite, has slow-walked negotiations – repeatedly capitulating to Brussels’ insistence on having the upper hand in dictating the terms of the separation and the status quo post Brexit.

Rather than guiding the nation through an expeditious divorce, Ms. May has led the U.K. (and the territories, including the Cayman Islands) into a confusing thicket of provisions, deals and agreements that are impossible for a layperson to decipher, but which send a clear invitation to opponents eager to exploit the PM’s weak position. We will list only two examples of her team’s “successes”:

First, there is the official “exit date” (March 30, 2019) – nearly three years after the people’s vote. It, in fact, only marks the beginning of a lengthy “transition period.” It is only then that the U.K. can even begin negotiating new trade deals, which cannot take effect until January of 2021.

Even though immigration was a clear impetus for the pro-Brexit referendum result, May’s government has promised the EU free movement across borders at least through 2020.

As with the recent Parliamentary maneuvers that resulted in the U.K. mandating public registers of beneficial ownership in the British Overseas Territories, the activity we describe above may be happening “across the pond,” but serious repercussions could soon be felt here in Cayman and our sister colonies.

The resignations of Mr. Johnson and Mr. Davis threaten to shake the already tenuous foundations of Ms. May’s coalition government. If, as some predict, the chaos leads to another general election, there is a very real possibility of a change in leadership – potentially placing Labour Party leader Jeremy Corbyn in the driver’s seat.

Mr. Corbyn and his followers have made no secret of their distaste for offshore finance, and their disdain for the rights of U.K. territories to govern their own domestic affairs. In fact, it was not long ago that Mr. Corbyn advocated for “direct rule” of Overseas Territories as a way to impose U.K. tax law on our self-sustaining jurisdictions.

If the next leader of the U.K. is “Prime Minister Jeremy Corbyn” – then the issue of beneficial ownership registers will instantly become the least of Cayman’s immediate existential worries.

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  1. The problem is that so many influential Conservative MPs don’t want to comply with the results of the referendum. Former OT Minister Henry Bellingham, who is now a backbencher, is firmly in the Brexit camp but in the next constituency Liz Truss, who is currently Chief Secretary to the Treasury and was a member of Cameron’s Oxford PPE clique, pushed the Remain case to the point of siding with Labour at one stage. Mrs Truss, and a lot of other Tory MPs who share her views, might now be talking Brexit but in reality that’s probably the last thing they want.