Wednesday, May 02, 2018

Undemocratic colonialism

The world has a problem: a network of statelets provide money-laundering services to tax cheats, corrupt officials, criminals and terrorists. Most of these statelets are British Overseas Territories, remnants of empire which for various reasons have not yet delcared independence. And so UK MPs have come up with a solution: legislate for transparency in their colonies:

Britain’s overseas territories will be forced to adopt public registers of company ownership at the end of the decade after the government conceded it would have to support a backbench amendment designed to stem the global flow of “dirty money”.

Sir Alan Duncan, a Foreign Office minister, told the Commons that ministers recognised “the majority view in this house” and would not oppose an amendment to the sanctions and anti-money laundering bill from Labour’s Margaret Hodge and the Conservative MP Andrew Mitchell.

The retreat was forced on Theresa May’s government after the Speaker rejected a string of government compromise amendments, which would have watered down the disclosure commitment, because they were tabled so late. Afterwards, some of the overseas territories voiced their unhappiness at what had been agreed at Westminster.

While I support public beneficial ownership registers, this is the wrong way to do it. The target states - the British Virgin Islands and Cayman Islands - have their own democratically elected legislatures and governments. While the Westminster Parliament undoubtedly has the power to legislate for them, it is constitutionally improper to do so without specifically being asked to. When you make a colony self-governing, then that needs to be respected, even when it is inconvenient. The British Parliament's approach here is simply dirty, old-fashioned colonialism.

The flip side of this of course is that if the money laundries don't like it, they have an easy solution: declare independence to get out from under Westminster. I expect the tax cheats are funnelling money to independence movements already...