London talks end on financial services, disaster management

Beneficial ownership, tax transparency and disaster management dominated the second and last day of the Joint Ministerial Council meeting between overseas territories officials and the U.K. government in London.

Mel Stride, financial secretary to the U.K. Treasury, said the U.K. government is committed to assisting the territories in the European Union tax cooperation process. The EU initiative threatens non-compliant jurisdictions with a blacklisting and punitive measures.

Mr. Stride said the U.K. had worked to ensure that the process was fair by calling for the use of objective criteria in the EU assessment. Several overseas territories encouraged the U.K. to continue its efforts at the political level.

Premier Alden McLaughlin said the Cayman Islands has been actively engaged with the EU and is on track to meet its commitments by the end of this year. All British territories and Crown dependencies are expected to meet economic substance requirements of the EU and the OECD Forum on Harmful Tax Practices.

The U.K., meanwhile, confirmed its plans to make public registers of beneficial ownership a global standard by 2023. The U.K. Parliament passed the Sanctions and Anti-Money Laundering Act in May. The act includes a controversial clause threatening the issuance of an order in council that would impose public registers showing the true owners of companies and other entities in the overseas territories, if they have not been introduced by the end of 2020.

The U.K.’s expectation is that such registers would be fully implemented and operational by 2023 and that the order could be drafted accordingly.

This type of interference in devolved policy areas has previously been criticized as “colonial,” as it effectively disenfranchises elected officials and their electorate in the territories. As a result, the constitutional relationship between the U.K. and its territories has been put under strain.

Several territories have subsequently started talks with the U.K. to revise certain aspects of their constitutional arrangements.

Chloe Smith, parliamentary secretary and minister for the Constitution, said the U.K. wants to have positive constitutional relationships with the territories, but admitted the passage of the Sanctions and Anti-Money Laundering Act had caused some challenges.

The aim, she said, was to recognize that the overseas territories are self-governing and subject only to the U.K. retaining power to carry out its obligations under international law.

Disaster preparedness

In the morning session, overseas territories leaders presented updates of their disaster preparedness on Wednesday, with territories impacted by hurricanes last year highlighting the recovery progress they have made.

Lord Tariq Ahmad, minister in the Foreign and Commonwealth Office, said the U.K. appreciated the effort by Cayman and others in providing assistance to the territories impacted by the tropical cyclones.

The U.K. continues to coordinate disaster management planning across the overseas territories for hurricanes, earthquakes, tsunamis, serious flooding and volcanic activity. An annual planning and readiness meeting will take place between the U.K., its territories and other Caribbean countries that wish to participate. Officials also noted that the U.K. had improved its own plans to swiftly respond to disasters in the overseas territories.

Minister of Financial Services and Home Affairs Tara Rivers provided an update on work in the Cayman Islands to help enhance its resilience to natural disasters, as well as strengthen regional cooperation frameworks. This includes working with the Governor’s Office and the Foreign and Commonwealth Office to pilot the FCO’s Crisis Hub, which is a tool to aid in evacuations and in tracking missing persons during disasters.

The Cayman Islands has also agreed to participate in a formal regional Overseas Territory Rapid Deployment Team that can swiftly provide support for impacted territories. A new specialist helicopter will be purchased with the assistance of the U.K. for use in the Cayman Islands, as well as to participate with disaster relief in the overseas territories.

The Cayman Islands has already begun implementing a National Emergency Notification System as well as upgrading the National Public Safety Radio Systems.