Just days before the EU publishes its ‘blacklist’ of tax havens, the Prime Minister met with leaders of its Overseas Territories for the annual Joint Ministerial Council, but Christian Aid has criticised the lack of progress on financial secrecy in Territories for which the UK has responsibility.
Toby Quantrill, Christian Aid’s Head of Economic Development, said:
“As the EU prepares its ‘blacklist’ of tax havens, the UK’s Overseas Territories risk finding themselves at the front of the queue unless they take genuine steps to end secrecy. The UK and the Overseas Territories have met yet again to discuss financial transparency, but almost no progress has been made in the last four and a half years.”
Responding to the communique from the Joint Ministerial Council meeting, Mr Quantrill said:
“We welcome the fact that the Prime Minister raised the important issue of financial transparency with the UK’s Overseas Territories last week. We understand that disaster recovery will have been a high priority for those islands affected by recent hurricanes, but this does not excuse the very limited progress on financial secrecy after years of foot-dragging.
“The communique states that the Overseas Territories operate within a framework of transparency. This is simply not true. Since 2013, the UK has repeatedly pressed the Overseas Territories to introduce transparent, publicly-accessible registers of who owns which companies registered on the islands – yet still not a single Overseas Territory has published one so far.
“The UK’s Overseas Territories are at the heart of the global system of offshore secrecy, as demonstrated by numerous leaks including the Panama and Paradise Papers. The UK Government should not tolerate ensuring the same transparency from the UK’s Overseas Territories as in the rest of the UK."
Noting that the UK had delayed its Anti Corruption Strategy and had not appointed a new Anti Corruption Champion, Mr Quantrill added:
“The government cannot afford to lose focus on anti-corruption, yet Number Ten’s refusal to publish its long-delayed Anti-Corruption Strategy suggest it has. The Paradise Papers show beyond doubt that any anti-corruption strategy worth its salt must include transparency in the UK’s Overseas Territories.”
Mr Quantrill questioned the claims that the Overseas Territories are economically beneficial:
“The communique discusses the value that the Overseas Territories provide to the global economy. Yet it remains entirely unclear what that value is, or how it compensates for the significant damage, especially to the poorest countries, that result from activities carried out in such jurisdictions.
“We recognise the challenges that many of the UK’s Overseas Territories face, in terms of climate change, limited economic options and other issues. UK support to the Territories should help them to transition away from the outdated economy of financial secrecy and towards new economies that do less harm to others. Change is needed, and it needs to move much quicker than is currently the case.”