Premier concerned by UK PM’s statement on tax deal
Premier Craig Cannonier and other leaders of the UK’s Overseas Territories protested British Prime Minister David Cameron’s representation that they had “signed up” to an international tax information agreement, and were ignored, it has emerged.
Mr Cameron told the House of Commons this week that the Overseas Territories had signed up to a tax information and transparency agreement, although no document was signed.
Facing a grilling from members of the Opposition Progressive Labour Party at yesterday’s House of Assembly sitting, Mr Cannonier said that OT leaders had received advance notice of the Prime Minister’s messaging and had voiced their concerns.
Mr Cannonier returned to Bermuda following meetings in London with Mr Cameron saying that Bermuda had not signed any agreements. A day later the British Prime Minister told the House of Commons that the Overseas Territories had “signed up to the multilateral convention on information exchange, agreed automatic exchange of information with the UK and action plans for beneficial ownership.”
PLP MP Walton Brown kicked off the questions in the House of Assembly.
“I can assure you that the Premier of Bermuda is not misleading you. My statements have been consistent and will remain consistent in the direction in which Bermuda wishes to go. I cannot speak for Prime Minister Cameron but it does concern me as well,” Mr Cannonier said.
The Premier also revealed that a request for a private meeting with the Prime Minister was not honoured.
But he rejected a suggestion that agreeing to go to the London talks meant he had ceded constitutional power to the UK.
“Bermuda will maintain its right constitutionally to direct its future as far as tax evasion is concerned, as far as beneficial ownership is concerned. We will continue on that path.”
Asked by MP Walton Brown if he would “convey his discontent” to the UK, the Premier said: “That displeasure was displayed by all of the Crown Dependencies and Overseas Territories. We will continue to massage and work this relationship. But it has been noted and I have also made sure that the Governor is aware of our discontent as well.”
The OT leaders had received advanced notice that the Prime Minister planned to tell the world that they had signed up to the tax evasion agreements, Mr Cannonier explained under questioning from Glenn Blakeney.
“We voiced our concerns prior to that statement being put out.”
Mr Cannonier got a passing grade for his responses from Mr Brown. “He was very candid and I appreciate that,” he told
The Royal Gazette. “The Premier has effectively distanced himself from the comments made by Cameron in the House of Commons.”
He continued: “He would not say it explicitly, but clearly Prime Minister Cameron has misled the House in that regard.”
But Mr Brown, an Independence advocate, remains concerned that Bermuda has now ceded some authority over its affairs back to the UK by going to London and allowing the Prime Minister to speak on its behalf in respect of financial and tax policy.
“That to me is a manifestation of devolution of powers back to the UK.”
Mr Brown said: “This trip was called by Cameron to grandstand and make it appear to the G8 that he had gotten his boys, so to speak, in line.”
In his statement to the House (see sidebar), Mr Cannonier stressed that Government “did not take a quantum leap in any commitment or undertaking given in London.”
Premier Craig Cannonier and Finance Minister Bob Richards told the “real Bermuda story” in London, the Premier told the House of Assembly yesterday.
“We talked about Bermuda’s highly regarded and well regulated international insurance sector that provides G8 countries with catastrophe risk insurance and pays claims on a timely basis,” he said.
“We explained how Bermuda’s global insurance sector supports jobs in the United Kingdom and in the European Union. We differentiated Bermuda as an international financial centre with a comparative advantage in the delivery of insurance and reinsurance products and services to the global community.
“We stated that it was fundamentally incorrect and misleading to categorise Bermuda as a tax haven.
“We were clear that Bermuda would protect its economic interests.
“We asserted that Bermuda is already committed to fully to the fight against tax evasion and aggressive tax avoidance. We pointed to our compelling history of action in this regard.”
Mr Cannonier and Mr Richards went to London at the request of the British Prime Minister in advance of the UK chaired G8 Summit this week.
The Prime Minister’s main priority was tax information sharing and transparency with respect to who really owns and benefits from companies.
Exchange of information under the Multilateral Convention on Mutual Assistance on Tax Matters was a key topic of conversation, the Premier said.
“Bermuda has publicly stated its support to the review being undertaken to consider a possible new standard of government registries for beneficial ownership,” the Premier said.
“However, it bears repeating that Bermuda is well advanced in this practice and it is really for many of the G8 jurisdictions to catch up.”
He continued: “My Government will work to improve access to information on beneficial ownership of companies.
“In doing so, however, we will not adopt measures that diminish our competitive capacity thereby leading to a loss of jobs in our economy. ”