The UK has agreed to constitutional changes that will give the Cayman Islands greater autonomy for internal affairs and an increased level of insulation, according to Premier Alden McLaughlin.
Uppermost in the changes is a provision for mandatory consultation with the Cayman Islands government before instituting any legislation impacting local shores.
McLaughlin, speaking in the Legislative Assembly Wednesday afternoon, described the change as an “incredible” concession.
This concession, he said, was made in a letter he received on Monday from UK Overseas Territories Minister Lord Tariq Ahmad.
Both the letter and the UK’s draft Order in Council for the changes were laid before the Legislative Assembly.
“What it does, for first time, if we agree to it, is to put into the Cayman Islands Constitution a provision that appears in no other constitution of any other overseas territory, a mandatory provision that before the UK government or parliament may legislate for us that, at a minimum, they have to consult with the premier, and the Cabinet has to signify its view on the proposal,” he said.
However, he hastened to add that the UK still retained its ultimate power.
He said this provision not only buys the Cayman Islands time, but it allows lawmakers the opportunity for broader consultations on legislation at Whitehall and Westminster in the UK.
“So, we do not wind up with situations as has occurred where parliament has on a whim amended legislation progressing through the house and effectively intervenes in domestic matters in the Cayman Islands and legislate for us,” the premier said.
The push for the changes was triggered following amendments to the UK Sanctions and Anti-Money Laundering Law that imposed public beneficial ownership registers on British Overseas Territories.
McLaughlin said that the UK government has agreed to remove the governor’s “power to legislate unilaterally” for the Cayman Islands, which was a key win in his view.
“There is on the cards right now the ability of the governor, if this parliament does not act in the way the UK thinks we ought to act, to effectively legislate with respect to definition of marriage. … Implicit in what the UK has said, that clear warning that if this legislature does not act, they will,” he said.
The premier said there are two avenues open to the UK, the first being the governor’s ability to write legislation and, second, the UK legislating for Cayman through an Order in Council.
McLaughlin implored legislators to consider the changes, which he said, were “hard fought”.
“I have always bristled at the prospect of a UK-appointed governor having the ability by one fell swoop, by one stroke of the pen, to legislate for my country, and again we would be fools in this House and should be tarred and feathered if we, having negotiated this, allow this opportunity to pass to remedy that situation,” the premier argued.
The premier said that, in outlining the changes, Lord Ahmad reminded him that the UK requires the broadest agreement on constitutional changes, as well as a referendum.
However, the referendum can be foregone should the government obtain agreement from the opposition on the changes and they agree those changes are not controversial.
He said the overseas territories minister had asked that the premier say how he intends to get broad public support for changes if he does not seek it through a referendum.
He said the changes, if all lawmakers agree, will move Cayman into a “whole new dimension politically and constitutionally, giving us greater responsibility to control our destiny”.
McLaughlin said the UK has also agreed to give up the governor’s right to disallow legislation.
“If we are to truly be a democracy, what we decide in this house as legislation ought to be the legislation, subject to it being constitutional,” the premier said.
The proposal has also agreed to change the constitutional provision that gives the governor the power and authority to create standing orders for legislators.
“We will have an independent legislature in every sense,” said McLaughlin.
The UK, he said, also agreed to clarify explicitly that the responsibility for the creation of domestic policy “is squarely for the government and not for the UK”.
McLaughlin said this would give Cayman some increased insulation from intervention by the UK parliament and UK government in areas that are “devolved responsibility” of the local government.
These changes, he suggested, will move Cayman to a whole new level where “we have greater autonomy, greater authority and greater insulation from international assault”.
The premier said Lord Ahmad, in the letter, pointed to the looming 12 Dec. UK general election, saying that he will not be able to make any decision that will be binding to any new government.
This, in effect, puts the onus on legislators to move swiftly on the issue.
As he outlined the changes, the premier asked that they debate the proposal together with the budget and Throne Speech that are currently on the Legislative Assembly order paper.
The debate continues Thursday.