Cayman Islands seek constitutional changes

The Cayman Islands government, with the support of the opposition, is entering into dialogue with the United Kingdom to change parts of the constitution relating to the territory’s relationship with Britain.

Premier Alden McLaughlin said he had already spoken with British Prime Minister Theresa May about clarifying and amending parts of the constitution to prevent Britain imposing its will and legislating on Cayman Islands domestic issues in future, following the recent passage of a UK law that will have a direct and unwanted impact on Cayman’s financial sector.

Speaking at a press briefing on Wednesday, following his return from London, the premier set out his plans for fighting the imposition of a public beneficial ownership register in the British Overseas Territories before it becomes the international global standard. But he also outlined plans to address the constitutional issues that the move by the UK parliament with this law presents for the Cayman Islands.

McLaughlin said the government needed to enter into a fresh set of constitutional discussions to “avoid this type of constitutional overreach in future”. He said the matter had already been raised with the prime minister and she had agreed about Cayman and British officials entering into talks. McLaughlin said he had the support of the opposition and he would press the issue when he goes to London again next month for the Pre-Overseas Territories Joint Ministerial Council meeting.

“We are striving to have elements of the Constitution clarified and the ability of the UK to legislate for us restricted,” he said as he outlined the proposals he would be making to amend the Constitution to protect Cayman from British overreach, pointing to the Bermuda’s constitution as an example.

McLaughlin is proposing to remove the current section that deals with the powers the UK has to legislate for the territories and replace it with a much stiffer clause that would only allow Britain to make domestic legislation for Cayman in very serious circumstances, such as a breakdown of law and order. He explained that he wanted to clarify the Constitution and restrict the UK’s power to issues relating to international affairs and only when Cayman is in breach of international standards.

“We want to remove that ability for the UK to be able to randomly legislate for us,” he said.

“This matter extends well beyond the issue of beneficial ownership registers or the broader financial services sector. If the UK feels emboldened by what it has just done and believes it can do it any time it doesn’t like something here or it wants to impose something on us, it is not just the financial services industry at risk but our very existence,” the premier added.

He pointed to local immigration laws, voting rights and who can stand for election as areas that the UK might want to interfere in and begin to impose legislative changes that would “threaten the very basis on which Cayman’s system is built”, McLaughlin warned, noting that government is going to challenge what has happened regarding the registers and seek to prevent future over-reach.

“The position of the Cayman Islands Government is that this attempt by the UK parliament to legislate for us is unlawful and we do not accept it, and if the British government proceeds to Order-in-Council it will be resisted,” he said, adding that between now and then Cayman would seek to amend the constitution.

In an usual display of unity, the premier was joined at the press briefing by opposition leader Ezzard Miller, who has said that on this issue the opposition stands “four square” with the premier to protect the sector and amend the constitution.

Miller said he agreed with the premier’s proposals to seek amendments to the constitution.

“I always feared that the UK may use the ‘nuclear option’,” he said, adding that, not only have they have chosen to exercise it, they have done it in a discriminatory way which will strengthen the legal case when Cayman seeks to resist the Order-in-Council through the courts.

But he said he supported the dialogue on changes to the Constitution, which as proposed would “go a long way to mitigate future actions”. Miller was also concerned about the precedent this move by the UK was setting.

“If they get away with this act, there is no telling where they would stop,” he said, as he also raised voting rights.

“We know that there are forces in community that want to see changes that we could not tolerate to who can vote and we can’t allow ourselves to be out-voted at the polls,” Miller said as he offered his support to McLaughlin’s plans.

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Last modified onWednesday, 30 May 2018 15:32

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