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Tax havens must open up their books by 2017

September 17, 2016 2:00 PM
Originally published by UK Liberal Democrats

The Liberal Democrats have demanded that British Overseas Territories such as the British Virgin Islands are given a fixed deadline to end secretive tax arrangements that allow companies to avoid paying billions of pounds of tax.

If the British Overseas Territories fail to comply then the Government should introduce legislation to change the laws governing the territories to require tax transparency.

Despite originally calling on overseas territories to adopt a register of beneficial ownership, then Prime Minister David Cameron backed down in May 2016 after his Anti-Corruption Summit failed to deliver an agreement with the British Virgin Islands and others.

The Liberal Democrats have suggest a deadline of April 2017 should be given the territories, with legislation to follow in the next Parliamentary session should they fail to comply. The Cayman Islands has already agreed to implement changes to open up its tax arrangements by this date.

Liberal Democrat Leader Tim Farron said:

"It is a stain on our reputation that Britain's overseas territories are world renowned when it comes to tax avoidance and evasion. They are being asked to implement rules that even Nigeria and Afghanistan have already agreed to meet. We should not be prepared to wait for them any longer."

"If these tax havens don't agree to open their books, then the UK Parliament must do so for them. Anything less would leave us complicit in tax dodging that is simply unacceptable in the modern world."

"With Brexit already lowering our standing around the world, we cannot afford to take our eyes off the ball when it comes to tackling global tax avoidance."

Notes to Editors

  • A motion being debated today at the Liberal Democrat Autumn Conference on Tackling Corruption and Corporate Crime calls for a specific deadline to be set before which tax havens must adopt a register of beneficial ownership
  • The UK has used legislation to force change in UK Overseas Territories several times, including:
    • In 2009 to suspend the Government and House of Assembly in the Turks and Caicos following allegations of systematic corruption.
    • In 1991, to abolish Capital Punishments for the crime of murder in the Caribbean (including Anguilla, the British Virgin Islands, the Cayman Islands, Montserrat and the Turks and Caicos Islands) overseas territories.
    • In 2000 to decriminalise homosexuality in Caribbean Overseas Territories
  • In October 2015, Eric Pickles confirmed in his role as anti-corruption champion that legislation could be used to force UK Overseas Territories to adopt new rules. A mechanism called an 'Order in Council' could use its legislative powers to force the territories to adopt the so-called 'Register of Beneficial Ownership', a mechanism which enables tax inspectors to identify who owns assets held in each country.