Video: UK On SSM, Belongers, Public Registers

December 27, 2018

The law passed by the UK aiming to have Overseas Territories make their beneficial ownership registers public, the Territories citizenship polices, same sex marriage, and Brexit were among the topics discussed at the most recent hearing of the British Parliament’s Foreign Affairs Committee inquiry.

Over the past few weeks, the Committee has been conducting an inquiry into “how the Foreign Office manages its responsibility to ensure the security and stability” of the British Overseas Territories, with numerous people making submissions and the Committee holding hearings.

The witnesses for the most recent session were Minister of State for the Commonwealth and the UN Lord Tariq Ahmad and Ben Merrick, who serves as the Director of Overseas Territories in the UK Foreign and Commonwealth Office.

90-minute video of the hearing:

Position Of ‘Belongers’ In The Territories 

Speaking during the hearing, the Chairman said that belongership creates “very clearly—two classes of citizen, even within a single jurisdiction, and it does appear to violate the UK’s international human rights obligations and its role as a promoter of democratic values. In the 2012 OT White Paper, the FCO said that it was wrong to disenfranchise non-belongers, as they would have it. Is that still your position?”

“The principle of the White Paper remains the case. Equally, however, the territories feel very strongly about the issue of belonger status and that it is an issue that they should be ruling on,” Lord Ahmad replied, “Our view has been clear, but the pushback from them is that this is a matter they should deal with domestically.

‘Having Civic Rights, Like Voting’

Noting it is “not just about residency; it is actually about having civic rights, like voting,” the Chairman said, “It does seem odd, in what we call the British family, to have two classes of people” and asked Lord Ahmad will he be “intervening.”

Lord Ahmad said, “No. I have no intention of intervening in any sort of direct order way. I believe there is great benefit to be had from having constructive progress. I believe that, and I hope that there will be progress in that respect from the territories.

“We have what I would call at times a challenging but constructive relationship with the Overseas Territories,” he said. “I have sought to create governance structures and communication channels, which now allow us to have some of these challenging discussions in a more constructive way, and I’m hoping that we will see progress in due course.

‘Territories View It As Devolved Matter Which They Are Responsible For’

“But—again, I am being very up front with you—in the exchanges we have had to date, the Overseas Territories are very clear. They feel very protective towards this; they regard it as a devolved matter, which they are responsible for, and they want the British Government to respect that. But our position in the 2012 paper hasn’t changed.”

The Chairman then asked if the UK should adopt belonger status with British Overseas Territories’ citizens and remove their right to vote, to which Lord Ahmad said no, as “just because there is a wrong on one side, you don’t create a wrong on the other side to try and correct it.”

When asked if he is “willing to allow it to run,” Lord Ahmad replied, “I am willing to have a constructive discussion to address it.”

UK Pass Law To Order OTs To Make Registers Public

Mike Gapes said, “This has been a bit controversial with some of the Overseas Territories. It requires them to publish registers of beneficial ownership by the end of 2020, or, if they have not done so, they will be forced to do so, by the UK Government using legislation—Orders in Council, presumably—to bring that about. How many Overseas Territories have published registers of beneficial ownership and which have yet to do so?

Lord Ahmad replied, “It is our intention that if by 2020 there is no public register, for whatever territory, we will then issue an Order in Council, which will then have a requirement for an operational public register by 2023.”

‘Produce Order In Council’

“As I said, if there is a territory that chooses to have a public register by 2020, that is all for the good, but the obligation is on the UK Government, at the end of December 2020, to produce an Order in Council.

“I would also add that there are differences with constitutions: for example, in Bermuda, there is a legal issue, whereby the Order in Council may well have to be instituted by the territory itself. There are different constitutional arrangements as well, but the obligation is on the Government to produce the Order in Council.”

In response to Mr Gapes saying “but we are not waiting for a worldwide agreement, Lord Ahmad said, “No. We have made clear that we will continue to lobby through all our representatives—be it representations through the G20, the G7 or any opportunity we have—for global standards, but we have also made it clear that there is an obligation on Her Majesty’s Government to produce an Order in Council, and we expect all Overseas Territories to have public registers by the end of 2023.

Asked what they will they “do if there is asset and capital flight from the Overseas Territories,” Lord Ahmad said, “There is a competing challenge here. At the moment, as I said Chairman, we haven’t seen evidence of that. We are obligated as a Government to fulfil the legislation that is required.

‘I Do Not Think Will Exist Globally By 2023′

“Equally, on the point that Mr Rosindell made about a level playing field, I have been very up front: I do not think it will exist globally by 2023. So there is a risk that there will be some asset flow from certain territories to others that have a more liberal regime. As yet, we have not seen evidence of that,” Lord Ahmad added.

Ben Merrick said, “There is certainly a broader agenda that we have around supporting the territories with economic diversification. I know quite a lot of the territories are thinking about that.

“A lot of them, being small societies, tend to have reasonably undiversified economies, unsurprisingly, so we are seeking anyway to help them. Now, we are obviously hoping that the scenario you set out won’t happen, but we are trying to see what more we can do.”

Same Sex Marriage

After one of the Committee members said that “change in the five Caribbean Overseas Territories is notably slower” and asked “how long are you going to wait before intervening,” Lord Ahmad replied, “We have been clear about where we stand.

“A particular case in question at the moment is Bermuda. What we are seeing there is that due process and judicial process is currently being taken. That is the right way to ensure what we have seen—the courts standing up for the rights of all citizens and the rights of the law that was originally passed.

‘No Plans To Intervene’

“It is right that we see the outcome of that due judicial process. At the moment, there are no plans to intervene or interject or introduce an Order in Council to that effect.

“On the Privy Council appeal, I think we will consider what will happen after that Privy Council process. Just to add, when I met the Premier of Bermuda, I made my own views and the position of the Government very clear—that we do expect progress on this issue. His response was very clear that it is now subject to a judicial process, and they, as a Government, are awaiting the outcome of that.

“In terms of the other territories, equally, in all our bilateral meetings, at official or ministerial level, we have made that point regularly and consistently. Their view—they may also have extended this opinion—is that they feel it is an issue that they wish to reflect and move on, respecting the opinions of their own citizens. That is something that they have repeatedly expressed to me.”

The 28-page transcript of the hearing follows below [PDF here]:

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Comments (6)

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  1. Vortex says:

    @Penultimate paragraph… feel that David Burt is misleading Lord Ahmed.

    Clearly we are awaiting the judicial outcome on SSM but what Burt fails to note it is a further challenge to a legal outcome by his Government and the public purse.

    The issue of belongers too, its all so depressing. Bermuda is being left behind with backwards, protectionist views so out of step with the modern world.

    I really hope the UK Govt forces the hand here.

  2. Independence calling says:

    Its all part a de plan—time will reveal all!

    • Terylynn says:

      And good luck with queuing for that visa EVERY time you leave the island.

      I’m sure you’ll feel very independent then.

    • Question says:

      The secret plan they don’t want the voters to know about?

  3. J J says:

    I think the writing is on the wall with regard to belongers. It is a bit like a moody teenager, you can tell them and instruct them, but sooner or later they learn the hard way.

    Bermuda is out of step with its obligations, our population is aging rapidly, retail activity is falling and our debt and pension oblugligations are rising.

    Our politicians cannot not swap their ideological mantras on this issue for a more agile and forward facing view. They are literally going to starve Bermudians off this rock.

    When our people are displaced we will become poets and song writers as we lament our loss. Look up people and look around you it is happening now.

  4. PBanks says:

    So they acknowledge that the Crown dependencies haven’t been pressured the way that the OTs have been, yet don’t seem inclined to address it.