In a recent address to special advisors to British Prime Minister Theresa May, Director of the BVI London Office Benito Wheatley stopped just short of calling the UK Government weak-willed.
He was referring to the Theresa May Government’s decision not to contest the public registers amendment to their Sanctions and Anti-Money Laundering Act when it was recalled before the UK parliament this month.
He was speaking at meeting with representatives of the other Overseas Territories (OTs).
“The UK Government gave in to political pressure and accepted an amendment to impose public registers on OTs, as opposed to allowing a vote by the numerous members of parliament who were against such a measure,” Wheatley said.
The UK Government did not allow the aforementioned amendment to be put to a vote in UK parliament because they claimed they were ‘respecting the wishes of the majority of parliamentarians’.
Wheatley told one of Prime Minister May’s special advisors that relations between the OTs and the UK have been impaired. He said, effectively, the move against the British OTs has ‘undermined’ their (OTs) self-governance and is a ‘clear demonstration of bias’.
The BVI diplomat further said the UK is fully aware the BVI relies on financial services and tourism for survival. He further reminded the UK that those local sectors were ‘largely wiped out’ during the 2017 hurricane season.
He then reminded the UK that while they have assisted Dominica with £14 million to rebuild following Hurricane Maria, help of that magnitude was not extended to the BVI to rebuild climate resilient infrastructure following those their disasters.
The UK had, however, offered the BVI a £300 million loan guarantee to finance hurricane recovery.
“The BVI government must take out commercial loans on the back of financial services in order to do so (rebuild the territory). Impeding our ability to secure such loans by undermining the financial services industry is not in the interest of the people of the BVI or the UK Government,” Wheatley said.
“We are very disappointed with the UK decision,” he added.
The UK overstepping their bounds
In the meantime, Wheatley expressed fresh concerns about the UK parliament legislating for the British OTs in areas where powers already have been handed over to the respective OT governments.
One such area is the financial services, Wheatley said.
According to the BVI’s London Office Director, the UK’s decision is a deviation from the policy set out in the 1999 UK White Paper known as the Partnership for Progress and Prosperity. That partnership agreement sought to modify relations between the UK and OTs from a colonial relationship to a modern partnership based on mutual respect and mutual responsibility.
The Sanctions and Anti-Money Laundering Act 2018 received royal assent on May 24 by Her Majesty the Queen, which means OTs are required to adopt public registers of beneficial ownership by December 31, 2020.
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