(CNS): Following the Overseas Territories Joint Ministerial Council meetings in London this week, which closed on Wednesday night, the Cayman delegation will remain in the UK to engage the British government in talks about the Cayman Islands Constitution. The government team will be joined by members of the opposition, as the two groups put aside their domestic political differences to present a united front over the desire for a constitutional change to limit the powers the UK has over Cayman’s autonomy and to protect its offshore industry.
Ahead of the discussions with the British, which are set to start Friday, the government and opposition will be advised by constitutional expert Sir Jeffrey Jowell, who helped Cayman shape the 2009 constitution.
The Cayman delegation, led by Premier Alden McLaughlin, is hoping that the negotiations will focus on addressing three main areas: the power of disallowance of locally enacted laws by the UK Secretary of State under section 80 of the Constitution, the governor’s reserved powers with regard to the introduction of legislation with the prior approval of the UK Secretary of State dealt with under section 81, and finally and most challenging for the delegation to overcome, section 125.
This is the last section in the document and one of shortest but most consequential of the Constitution as it deals with the power reserved to the British government to make laws for Cayman.
Opposition Leader Ezzard Miller, who will be accompanied by his deputy, Alva Suckoo, said he was honoured to be a member of the delegation, given his agreement with the premier and the goal of “improving the good governance of the Cayman Islands, by Caymanians, for Caymanians”.
The talks were confirmed only recently but the premier had requested the discussions back in June following the controversial passage of the Sanctions and Anti-Money Laundering Bill in the UK Parliament, with an amendment that required the Cayman Islands and other British Overseas Territories with financial services sectors to establish public beneficial ownership registers by the end of December 2020. If the territories do not comply, the law requires the UK government to impose the registers by an Order in Council, changing local legislation.
The premier has said that he does not accept that the UK has the right to legislate for Cayman in domestic matters, which are devolved to local government, and has persistently described it as constitutional overreach.
“The constitutional safeguards we are striving for are to have aspects of our constitution clarified to ensure that the Cayman Islands government has autonomous capacity in respect of domestic affairs and that the UK Parliament will not legislate, directly or indirectly, without consultation or, in matters of domestic autonomy, without the consent of these islands,” McLaughlin said recently in a press release about the London trip.
“Our goal is to put the Cayman Islands in the best possible position constitutionally to govern our own affairs, to resist constitutional overreach by the UK government and parliament, and to continue to thrive and prosper as a modern, progressive and successful democracy,” he added.
However, the UK has made it clear that it believes the need for open public registers that can reveal who really benefits from any entity registered with an offshore jurisdiction relates to matters of national security and so go beyond the realm of Cayman’s or any other territory’s domestic arena. The issue has been further complicated by the fact that the Crown Dependencies, which are direct competitors to Cayman and some other territories with financial sectors, are not subject to this law.
The talks coincide with the UK government’s own constitutional crisis, as the parliament will be continuing to debate Prime Minister Theresa May’s Brexit deal while the Cayman delegation is in the UK. The talks on the British side are expected to include Ben Merrick, Foreign and Commonwealth Director for the Overseas Territories, as well as Lord Ahmed, the FCO minister for the territories.
Depending on the success of the talks, any consequential change to the Constitution would require the country to agree to amend the document through a referendum.