Last Thursday at the Chamber of Commerce legislative luncheon, Premier Alden McLaughlin strongly denounced a United Kingdom Foreign Affairs Committee report issued the same day that calls for British citizens to be able to vote and run for office in the overseas territories.
“The day the U.K. government seriously considers that persons who are not Caymanians can stand for office here, is the day I will lead the charge for independence,” he said in response to a question from Chamber CEO Wil Pineau. “Because that is akin to an attempt to take over the territory and to decide and impose their will on the direction the country should take.”
The premier stressed that the report – which also calls for the U.K. Parliament to set a date for British OTs to legalize same-sex marriage and establish public beneficial ownership registries, and if the date is not met, legislate such measures through an Order in Council – was drafted by a committee of Parliament and does not necessarily reflect the views of the U.K. government.
“The FCO committee is not a government committee. It is a committee of the Parliament,” he said. “It’s views don’t necessarily represent the views of the government. They don’t have power to impose on the territory; they make recommendations.”
Mr. McLaughlin told the Cayman Compass that, in fact, Cayman has actually made “real progress” toward more autonomy in its constitutional reform discussions with the U.K. He said that process is close to its final stages and would likely have been completed by now if British lawmakers weren’t preoccupied with Brexit.
The premier was tight-lipped about the details of what Cayman’s new relationship with the U.K. could be, but said the territory could have more autonomy in both its domestic and international affairs. One reform could be that the U.K. must consult with Cayman before imposing an Order in Council.
But despite the fact that the current U.K. government has a mostly hands-off policy when it comes to its OTs, Mr. McLaughlin said he’s noticed a disturbing pattern of some in the British parliament becoming increasingly willing to infringe on territorial autonomy.
“What annoys me is that if the people behind the report were to get into power,” he said, referring to the report as a “shameless and shameful attempt to reproduce neocolonialism.”
“These are areas that have long been devolved to local administration – the ways we run our electoral and ministerial system is something we’ve had responsibility for as long as I can remember,” he told the Compass. “This attitude that somehow we are British territories and so are required to follow British values is really scary stuff in 2019.”
One of the most irritating aspects for the premier of the Foreign Affairs Committee report is that the recommendation to have British people vote and run for office in the OTs was made without any consultation with Cayman or the other territories. This is despite that the report was produced after U.K. committee members took more than 100 pieces of evidence from all the OTs, including testimony from Cayman’s representative in London, Eric Bush.
“The other stuff about LGBT rights and beneficial ownership was predictable stuff, but this [British voting] proposal, that I’ve never seen before in my 19 years as an elected member,” he said.
Governor Martyn Roper addressed Cayman’s concerns on Twitter, making similar assurances that the report does not reflect the current U.K. government’s views. He also said the local concerns will be conveyed to the Foreign and Commonwealth Office, and that a response will be made in “due course.”