When the British Minister for Overseas Territories Lord Tariq Ahmad visits three Caribbean territories this week, he will avoid risking any demonstrations in the British Virgin Islands.
There have been vehement protests in the BVI and strident condemnation from the other Caribbean OCTs over UK plans for public access to registries of companies and accounts in their lucrative offshore financial sector.
Lord Ahmad will visit Anguilla, the Cayman Islands and Montserrat. where his talks will focus on the public registries issue.
He will also discuss preparedness for the upcoming hurricane season which starts on June 1st.
Bermuda, the BVI and the Turks and Caicos Islands are however not on his itinerary.
Both the BVI and TCI were ravaged by devastating hurricanes last year - the BVI far worse than the TCI - and both argue that the introduction of the public registries will decimate their offshore financial sectors, especially the BVI.
The UK introduced its own public register of beneficial company owners in 2016 and pressure has been mounting on the OCTs to follow suit.
The controversial issue is expected to occupy centre stage during Lord Ahmad’s tour of the three islands - even on Montserrat.
And although he might find some comfort in the fact that volcano-ravaged Montserrat is already putting the contentious legislation in place, he will no doubt be challenged even there on the UK threat to unilaterally impose the requirement.
Opposition to the public registry is already fierce in the other OCTs despite efforts by the British prime minister Theresa May to placate their growing dissent during a teleconference a few days ago.
Lord Ahmad was also on that call.
He has shown some sympathy, at least diplomatically, to the concerns of the islands.
However, he has said that the British government will “use its best endeavours diplomatically and with international partners to promote public registers of company beneficial ownership as the global standard by 2023”.
There have been criticisms about perceived shortcomings in the UK’s own system.
Some UK parliamentarians have also voiced reservations over the thorny issue of forced implementation by Royal Decree on those islands which fail to enact the legislation by 2020.
Accusations of high-handedness, colonialism and treachery have echoed from OCTs over this aspect in particular of the overarching law called the Sanctions and Anti-Money Laundering Bill.
The Cayman Islands have threatened legal action against the UK, and the BVI has raised the prospect of seeking independence.
Further inflaming the issue are concerns that the Crown Dependencies of the Channel Islands and the Isle of Man were being treated differently.
They had successfully lobbied to be excluded from the legislation.
And while Minister for Overseas Territories, Lord Ahmad, will be visiting the selected Caribbean OCTs to placate them but insist on implementation, a delegation from the House of Commons will be going to the Crown Dependencies.
There goal however, will be to ‘persuade’ them to reconsider and adopt the legislation or else also risk having it imposed by Royal power.
Lord Ahmad has also said that he expects the Crown dependencies to have the beneficial ownership pubic registry in place by the 2023 UK wide deadline.
The OCTs have until 2020 to put it in place voluntarily.
Coming out of last week’s teleconference between the OCTs, Prime Minister Theresa May and himself, Lord Ahmad had said:
“We strongly value the relationship between the UK and the Overseas Territories and will work closely with the Overseas Territories Governments to find a solution which works for everyone.”
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