Cayman Islands Premier Alden McLaughlin sought to clear the air Friday following comments by fellow British Overseas Territories leaders regarding “constitutional overreach” by the United Kingdom.
During his remarks at the closing of three days of meetings between Overseas Territories’ representatives, McLaughlin said any criticism of heavy-handedness by the United Kingdom referred specifically to Parliament and not the UK government. In particular, he referred to “the continued efforts of Dame Margaret Hodge and company”.
Hodge, of the Labour Party, and Tory MP Andrew Mitchell have been key players in pushing legislation to mandate public beneficial ownership registers in the territories and Crown dependencies – an effort that has been extensively criticised in Cayman and other affected jurisdictions.
“I want to say that some very difficult and controversial areas were explored in our discussions, one of them featured prominently on the pages of today’s Caymanian Compass and in other newscasts. That is this very, to use a Cayman expression, a very ‘touchous’ issue of constitutional overreach by the UK Parliament,” said McLaughlin, speaking at the Kimpton Seafire Resort.
“I wish to say, so that all understand, the concerns that the territories’ leaders have in its present tense, not past, relate not to the way we are treated by the United Kingdom government.”
The premier praised the work of Lord Ahmad of Wimbledon, the minister of state for the Commonwealth and United Nations, in defending the interests of the territories. Lord Ahmad was also at the closing event on Friday, having attended a number of meetings in Cayman.
“Lord Ahmad himself has gone out on more than a limb to battle for the Overseas Territories in Parliament, and all of us are extremely grateful for his efforts,” McLaughlin said.
“Indeed, we all have said a collective prayer that he continues as our minister, notwithstanding what happens on 23 July, so none of that it is intended as any criticism.”
UK Prime Minister Theresa May’s successor is expected to be announced on that date, creating further uncertainty over the future of Brexit and what that could mean for the territories.
“All of us are painfully conscious about how difficult and stressful things must be in London if you’re in government at this time, so this was no small sacrifice, no small effort on the part of the United Kingdom government to make this [pre-Joint Ministerial Council meeting] happen and we are … very, very grateful for it,” McLaughlin said.
Lord Ahmad said the extensive words of praise he had received during his visit were typically those reserved for the dead.
“I am very much here. I am alive and kicking. As to what awaits post 23 July, I would not be one to speculate. All I will say is that we will continue in a forward, progressive-looking manner when it comes to our relationship with the overseas territories,” Lord Ahmad said.
He described the morning’s headlines regarding “modern-day colonialism” as something akin to a bad dream.
“As someone who is of Indian heritage himself, I felt that the days of the Raj [the British empire in India] had returned, seeing headlines of colonialism on my arrival [from] the UK,” he said. “Then I turned a few pages over breakfast and it said, ‘Trade event kicks off’. Now, ‘kicks off’ has two meanings. So if you read the first headline, followed by the second, I really thought that was not the impression I wanted to give on my visit to Cayman.”
During day one of the summit, several leaders criticised attempts by the UK Parliament to legislate on issues such as same-sex marriage, ‘belongership’ and financial services in the territories.
Bermuda Premier David Burt said during a press conference Wednesday, “Modern-day colonialism is what is being attempted by those persons in Westminster, and I am certain that all Overseas Territories will resist it vociferously.”
Several other representatives from the territories expressed similar concerns.
Albert Isola, Gibraltar’s minister for commerce, called attempts by Parliament to legislate for the territories “anti-democratic”.
“There is no way today we can accept modern colonialism through the back door by allowing these things to happen. On that, as has been demonstrated today, we are all 100 percent on the same page,” Isola said.
On Friday, Lord Ahmad hoped to shift the focus from such remarks to the “deepening partnership” between the territories and the United Kingdom.
“Perceptions can only be changed by reality and the reality is that our relationship with our British Overseas Territories is based on a proud history, a proud tradition. But going forward for the here and now and for our tomorrows is based on a very powerful partnership,” Lord Ahmad said.
“Your presence here today is something not only that we respect from a United Kingdom perspective, but we respect it because it is part of a powerful partnership, because it is unique like no other.”
The minister added that the work of the territorial leaders was not yet done. “We have the small matter of a JMC [Joint Ministerial Council] with the added word: Brexit. Now, it’s an interesting element.”
Following the closing remarks, the overseas territories’ leaders met for a closed-door session regarding Brexit plans.
The meeting ended in a declaration, recognising commitment to ongoing dialogue on matters of trade and economic diversification.