Independence idea revived amid Brexit

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  • Implications unknown: Bob Richards, Minister of Finance

    Implications unknown: Bob Richards, Minister of Finance


Independence from Britain might be feasible, should the UK’s withdrawal from the European Union jeopardise Bermuda’s business interests, said finance minister Bob Richards.

“We still don’t know which way is up,” Mr Richards cautioned of Brexit — the UK’s shock referendum result of June 23.

“It’s my opinion, not the opinion of the Bermuda Government, and it is the same as it was in the late 1990s; it has not changed — but I have more context to put it in from my experience with this job over the last four years.

“We don’t know how this is going to pan out as it relates to Overseas Territories. We can speculate, but we don’t have any evidence.

“My view is that if the external situation affecting Bermuda should change, so that our way of life and business and our ability to feed ourselves is threatened by UK policies, whether inside or outside Europe, then I would not hesitate to go for independence. It’s our duty to protect Bermudians.”

The minister said he had discovered during his tenure that “on a number of issues, we are not on the same side” when it came to Britain.

“The tax haven issue is one that was visited upon us by the UK; the Cameron Government was on a crusade to do something about tax havens.

“I happened to be in London for a demonstration so large it stretched from the Bank of England to Parliament.”

A “groundswell” of anti-haven sentiment in recent years has led some to believe that Bermuda was somehow “taking money out of their pockets”.

“We have had to react to all kinds of initiatives that posed risks to our business model ... if a confluence of circumstances arise with the Brexit issue, our responsibility as a government would be very clear.”

The past few years have seen sharply worded responses by Mr Richards and Michael Dunkley, the Premier, to charges of financial impropriety from across the Atlantic.

While Mr Richards said the island was “a long way” from such a drastic move, tides could turn.

“Up until recently, we have been in a sweet spot where our business partners feel comfortable. We’re English speaking, we have the rule of British law, and with relatively low taxation. It’s our role as Government to keep us in that sweet spot.”

As far as Brexit’s true implications go, Mr Richards said the island was in the early days.

“The UK, I’ve heard, may not be in a position to start talking to the EU about Article 50 until possibly the end of next year,” he said — referring to the section of the Treaty of European Union that covers the breaking of ties.”

Recent speculation had the invocation of Article 50 possible by the close of 2016.

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Published Sep 16, 2016 at 8:00 am (Updated Sep 16, 2016 at 4:58 am)

Independence idea revived amid Brexit

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