Britain and its islands square off over tax haven rules


London (AFP)

Leaders of three tiny British islands gathered in London on Monday to try to head off proposed legislation aimed at increasing transparency and ending secret company ownership in their jurisdictions.

Britain has been gradually ramping up its fight against money laundering and various tax avoidance and evasion schemes.

But it has less say in the rules governing the Isle of Man in the Irish Sea and its fellow crown dependencies of Jersey and Guernsey near the French coast.

The European Union has threatened to include the three in its 2019 list of tax havens if they fail to improve their transparency rules.

The BBC reported that they are home to 76,000 companies -- nearly one for every three people living there.

A cross-party amendment to be debated in the British parliament on Monday wants the islands to introduce registers disclosing the true ownership structures of companies.

The law would require the names of parties owning more than 25 percent of any firm registered in the dependencies to be made publicly available by the end of 2020.

The three crown dependencies are internally self-governing possessions of the British crown for which the United Kingdom is responsible under international law.

But their governments issued a joint statement on Saturday raising "strong objections" over the proposed change.

They argued that London was in danger of creating a constitutional crisis by imposing rules without their consent.

"It is a respected constitutional position that the UK does not legislate for the crown dependencies on domestic matters without our consent," their statement said.

London "should not attempt to pass unwarranted and inoperative legislation," Guernsey chief minister Gavin St Pier tweeted as he headed into the talks.

The three islands further branded the amendment as redundant because they had a "robust existing approach" to fighting secret company ownership.

The Financial Times newspaper said the amendment appeared likely to succeed when it is debated.

A spokesman for Prime Minister Theresa May's office told reporters: "Crown dependencies are separate jurisdictions with their own democratically elected governments. They are responsible for their own fiscal matters."

A similar parliamentary proposal last year imposed greater transparency rules on Britain's overseas territories.

These include the Cayman Islands and the British Virgin Islands -- two territories that are home to tens of thousands of companies with overseas owners.

Such regions are popular due to their very low tax rates and looser transparency rules.

Britain's Foreign Office has extended the deadline by which the overseas territories have to publish their registers until the end of 2023.