Cayman’s representative in London, Eric Bush, faced a grilling from British MPs Tuesday and deflected questions on the controversial issues of beneficial ownership and same-sex marriage.
Mr. Bush, appearing before a U.K. parliament Foreign Affairs Select Committee, declined to say if Cayman was on a “collision course” with the U.K. over its intent to impose public beneficial ownership registries on the overseas territories.
And he refused to answer questions from MP Chris Bryant on whether Cayman’s stance on gay marriage was in keeping with its purported commitment to “British values.” Mr. Bush said he could not comment because there was a legal challenge going on contesting the ban on same-sex marriage in the Cayman Islands.
“You want to be part of the British umbrella but not part of the British way of life,” Mr. Bryant said, referencing earlier comments from Mr. Bush that the island considered itself to be fundamentally British and had no plans to seek independence.
Mr. Bush appeared alongside politics professor Peter Clegg in the committee’s investigation into the Future of the British Overseas Territories.
Many of the questions for the Cayman Islands representative focused on financial services and the controversial decision by the U.K. to include an amendment in the recent Sanctions and Anti-Money Laundering Act, to require Britain’s overseas territories to introduce public company beneficial ownership registries by 2020 or face having that decision made for them through an order in council.
Mr. Bush told the panel there was a sense of disbelief in Cayman about that decision, which he said “betrayed years of constructive conversation.”
He said Cayman Islands Premier Alden McLaughlin had been very clear in stating that the move was a “constitutional overreach.”
Asked if the Cayman Islands would accept the legislation now that it had been passed into British law, Mr. Bush replied, “That is not for me to say.”
He said the Cayman Islands had made it clear it would become an “early adopter” of public beneficial ownership registries when they became a global standard.
Mr. Bryant questioned him on this, saying, “The U.K. government has raised the bar and said our standard is higher. Are you choosing a lower standard?”
Mr. Bush said the Financial Action Task Force and the Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development were the two bodies that set global standards, and they ranked the Cayman Islands on par with the U.K. in terms of its standards on financial transparency.
Tom Tugendhat, chair of the committee, came briefly to the defense of the Cayman Islands on the issue, pointing out that it did keep registers on beneficial ownership, which, though not public, were available to law enforcement agencies on request.
“Some elements of the overseas territories registers seem to be rather better than the U.K. registers, certainly in terms of identifying actual directors and checking genuine ownership. It is clear to many of us there is a lot we could learn in reverse.”
But, he said, the U.K. had got involved in a financial services matter, previously seen as a devolved issue for the elected governments in the territories, because it now considered the issue to be less about tax evasion and more about national security.
“Today, it is money going through that is being used to corrupt allies around the world, weaken defensive alliances, influence civil society in various ways. This is no longer a financial matter; it is a national security matter. Our national security support to the Cayman Islands is part of the infrastructure that allows the prosperity of the Cayman people. That is part of it from our perspective.”
Asked whether the issue had prompted discussion of independence in the overseas territories, Mr. Bush said this was not the case in Cayman.
He said being British was part of Cayman’s DNA, since it was first settled by two exiles from Oliver Cromwell’s army.
Mr. Bush also welcomed suggestions from MP Andrew Rosindell, that the structure for administering the overseas territories be reformed, so the Cayman Islands was treated as a domestic partner, rather than as a foreign entity.
“We do think it is dated and could be reformed,” Mr. Bush said.
“The Cayman Islands and other overseas territories are not foreign. In the context of Brexit and the new sense of a global Britain, we want to be a strong member of that global British family.”