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Richards accuses UK of hypocrisy

Hypocrisy claim: Bob Richards told The Guardian newspaper the UK is a tax haven

Bermuda’s finance minister Bob Richards has fired a broadside at the UK’s hypocrisy over tax legislation.

Speaking to The Guardian newspaper, Mr Richards blasted Britain’s bid to have its Overseas Territories establish public registers of the owners of offshore companies and said the UK should get its own house in order.

And he repeated the warning that Bermuda would consider independence if British interests collided with the island’s.

Mr Richards said the UK itself “is a tax haven” and pointed to its non-domicile laws that allow foreigners to live in Britain but not pay tax on their overseas income.

The Deputy Premier is in London with Michael Dunkley, the Premier, for talks with the British government on Brexit.

He said: “You have more billionaires resident in London than any place on earth. They are not here for the weather, they are here for the tax climate. We have a double standard going on here.”

He added: “We have a much more transparent, much cleaner system than the countries that promulgate these rules in the first place.

“The popular notion that somehow there is something nefarious going on in a small island that is relatively successful is false.”

A British parliament cross-party group of MPs, led by Margaret Hodge, a former Labour minister, has called for an amendment to the UK criminal finances bill to force the Overseas Territories to follow the UK in creating a public register of company ownership by 2020.

Bermuda, unlike the UK, has had a central register of company ownership for decades which is shared with other governments if requested, but is not public.

But Mr Richards said: “There is a thing is this world called privacy and at least in my island privacy still exists. There is no public right to know anybody’s private business.”

He told the left-leaning Guardian: “The register in Bermuda is there to protect the government’s reputation ... it is not the public’s business. We are not here to tell you who is doing business in Bermuda.”

Bermuda, which has just become chair of the UK Overseas Territories Association, is now leading the charge against the proposed Hodge amendment.

Mr Richards said that there was no reason for Bermuda to make its register public while US states like Delaware, Wyoming and Nevada maintained private registers of company ownership.

He added: “We cannot move to a standard that our major trading partner has not adopted. We may very well lose business. Would you take that chance?”

Mr Richards said that the island’s Government was prepared to listen to the UK, but would protect its own interests.

Mr Richards warned last year that Bermuda “would not hesitate” to break its ties with Britain if the country were to be threatened by Brexit.

He said: “At the moment, our interests are aligned, but if that changes then we will have to think of ourselves.

“This amendment being proposed is not in the interests of Bermuda.”