Premier Craig Cannonier said that British Prime Minister David Cameron’s comments that the Overseas Territories signed up to a convention “concerned” him, and the Governor has been made aware of “our discontent.”
The Premier was answering questions in the House of Assembly today [June 21] about conflicting reports following his recent trip to London.
Speaking in the UK House of Commons on Wednesday [June 19], Prime Minister Cameron said the Overseas Territories and Crown Dependencies signed up to the multilateral convention.
This contrasts to what Premier Craig Cannonier said the prior day, as he told the media that Bermuda “has not signed any agreement at all” and neither had the other Overseas Territories.
Premier Cannonier was questioned about the disparity by PLP MP Walton Brown, who asked was the Prime Minister being misleading, or was the Premier misleading Bermuda.
Audio of the exchange in the House of Assembly:
The Premier said he was not being misleading, and his statements have been, and will remain, consistent.
“I cannot speak on behalf of Prime Minister Cameron, but it does concern me to see those comments as well,” said Premier Cannonier.
In addition, he said the Overseas Territories were aware in advance that the Prime Minister would be making a statement of that nature, which he said the Overseas Territories “voiced their concerns” about prior to the statement being put out.
Saying he “voiced his concerns” with the Governor on Wednesday, the Premier said he has “made sure the Governor is aware of our discontent with this…”
The Premier also noted that his request for a private meeting with the Prime Minister was not honoured, which he said was “disturbing” and “disappointing.”
Prime Minister Cameron’s full speech can be read here, and the relevant portion is below:
The Overseas Territories and Crown Dependencies have signed up to the multilateral convention on information exchange, agreed automatic exchange of information with the UK and action plans for beneficial ownership.
Taken together all the actions agreed with the Overseas Territories and Crown Dependencies will provide over £1 billion to the exchequer. Helping to keep taxes down for hardworking families in the UK.
The questions followed after the Premier delivered a speech on his UK trip in the House today. He said, “There is confusion in the international news media about the conclusions of my talks in London….”
“I wish to make it abundantly clear that the Government of Bermuda did not take a quantum leap in any commitment or undertaking given in London. The Minister of Finance joined me in the London meetings to tell the ‘real Bermuda story.”
The Premier’s full speech in the House follows below:
Mr. Speaker, I rise today to report to Honourable Members on my meetings in London on the eve of the G8 Summit which took place on June 17, 2013 in Lough Erne in Ireland.
Mr. Speaker, I had the opportunity to talk directly with the United Kingdom Prime Minister, the Rt. Honourable David Cameron, the Overseas Territories Minister, Mr. Mark Simmonds and with Overseas Territory and Crown Dependency Premiers and Chief Ministers.
Mr. Speaker, there is confusion in the international news media about the conclusions of my talks in London on the issues of transparency regarding beneficial ownership of companies and exchange of information under the Multilateral Convention on Mutual Assistance on Tax Matters which I shall refer to as the Convention. My talks with Prime Minister Cameron focused essentially on these two issues.
Mr. Speaker, I wish to make it abundantly clear that the Government of Bermuda did not take a quantum leap in any commitment or undertaking given in London. The Minister of Finance joined me in the London meetings to tell the ‘real Bermuda story’.
We talked about Bermuda’s highly regarded and well regulated international insurance sector that provides G8 countries with catastrophe risk insurance and pays claims on a timely basis.
We explained how Bermuda’s global insurance sector supports jobs in the United Kingdom and in the European Union. We differentiated Bermuda as an international financial centre with a comparative advantage in the delivery of insurance and reinsurance products and services to the global community.
We stated that it was fundamentally incorrect and misleading to categorise Bermuda as a tax haven. We were clear that Bermuda would protect its economic interests.
We asserted that Bermuda is already committed fully to the fight against tax evasion and aggressive tax avoidance. We pointed to our compelling history of action in this regard.
Mr. Speaker, Bermuda’s international tax strategy has focused on compliance with international regulatory cooperation and international tax cooperation which has seen Bermuda sign 39 TIEAs encompassing 90% of the G20, 52% of the EU and 76% of the OECD Member States.
Like the Convention, Bermuda’s TIEAs currently help developing countries track down tax cheats and we have a proven track record in this regard. We were one of the first jurisdictions to have a TIEA with the United States that was signed in 1988. Bermuda has also provided beneficial ownership to US authorities for almost two decades under the provision of the TIEA, well before the OECD created their Model TIEA with input from Bermuda.
Further, most recently Bermuda has stated publically that it supports the Convention in principle, just like many other countries. Bermuda has also been clear that it would take measured steps in its approach to the Convention so that there was no risk to our business model. Even the UK when it considered the Convention issued its own reservations. Bermuda has also publically given its support to the FATCA pilot multilateral exchange initiative of the G5/EU.
Mr. Speaker, on the matter of having access to information on the beneficial ownership of companies, the simple truth is that Bermuda is a leader.
Since the 1940′s, Bermuda has required ultimate beneficial ownership information at the time of formation for every entity from abroad that sets up in Bermuda. Bermuda is virtually unique in this practice. The truth is Bermuda’s ‘house’ is more in order than many G8 countries because Bermuda is already out in front in this area of government registries on beneficial ownership of companies.
Mr. Speaker, the commitments that I communicated to the Prime Minister many days ago are that Bermuda has already given an undertaking to automatic exchange of information under three FATCA initiatives based on the IGA model 2 with the US, UK and the G5 EU pilot initiative multilateral FATCA. The commitment was measured in its scope to align with Bermuda’s interests as an engaged partner in a global fight against tax evasion and aggressive tax avoidance.
We will assess the multilateral mechanism and then determine next steps. We understand that the Convention does not provide an obligation to automatic exchange. Rather the wisdom of its drafters provides for automatic exchange based on a mutual need and mutual agreement between both parties.
Finally, Bermuda has publically stated its support to the review being undertaken to consider a possible new standard of government registries for beneficial ownership. However, it bears repeating that Bermuda is well advanced in this practice and it is really for many of the G8 jurisdictions to catch up.
Mr. Speaker, in going forward, my Government will work to improve access to information on beneficial ownership of companies. In doing so however, we will not adopt measures that diminish our competitive capacity thereby leading to a loss of jobs in our economy – that would be foolhardy.
My Government also will take measured and appropriate steps to ensure that Bermuda remains at the forefront of the fight against tax evasion and aggressive tax avoidance.
Ours is a cooperative and transparent domicile for legitimate international business and my Government seeks to retain this pedigree for our country.
Jobs now and future growth and wealth creation for Bermudians depend upon it.
Thank you, Mr. Speaker.
Speaking outside the House today, Premier Cannonier stressed that Bermuda is a leader when it comes transparency, and that we are a re/insurance domicile and low tax jurisdiction, not a tax haven. “When it comes to transparency we are further ahead than many of the G8 nations,” said the Premier.
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