Andrew Rosindell MP is a member of the House of Commons Foreign Affairs Committee and Chairman of the British Overseas Territories and Crown Dependencies All Party Parliamentary Groups.
Issues raised by the release of the Mossak Fonesca papers, (otherwise known as the ‘Panama Papers’) have led many to levy deeply unfair and unjustified criticisms against Britain’s Overseas Territories and Crown Dependencies. Indeed, some senior figures in Westminster have made the regrettable announcement that they believe Her Majesty’s Government should consider imposing direct rule on the British Overseas Territories and Crown Dependencies.
I find such statements based on a complete misunderstanding of how British territories and dependencies are governed as democracies today. As self-governing territories it is firmly within the right of British Overseas Territories and Crown Dependencies to choose to operate as low-tax, well-regulated economies in a world where nations have adopted a wide variety of tax rates, many of which are lower than our own.
Given the lack of evidence proving wrongdoing by the Governments of the Overseas Territories and Crown Dependencies, I feel it would be both unnecessary and unjust to impose direct rule and force Britain’s Overseas Territories and Crown Dependencies to raise their tax rates, while also leaving other nations and their territories untouched.
The UK should be proud of how our territories and dependencies have succeeded in developing their own economies and in being mostly self-sufficient, not requiring financial help from the UK taxpayer. Those who suggest direct rule would destroy their economic success and undermine democracy and the right of the peoples of these territories to govern their own land.
As Chairman of the British Overseas Territories and Crown Dependencies All Party Parliamentary Groups, I have seen how these territories and dependencies have played a leading and highly constructive role in working to improve international transparency on taxation and have actively committed to meeting international transparency standards. Territories such as the British Virgin Islands have implemented highly stringent regulatory systems and have adopted many of the initiatives developed by international standard setting organisations. I was therefore pleased, yet not altogether surprised, to see that last year the Overseas Territories were awarded the same standard of transparency by the OECD as the UK, Singapore and Germany.
The British Overseas Territories are proud of their British heritage and their status as self-governing territories. I have long believed in the right to self-determination, and hence have been a firm supporter of the right Gibraltar and the Falkland Islands to remain self-governing British sovereign territories as long as its inhabitants wish to do so. However, those who have asked that H.M. Government imposes direct rule, against the wishes of the inhabitants of the Overseas Territories and Crown Dependencies, fail to realise that it would not only be an unfair and unwarranted move, it would also raise the spectre of British imperialism and risk alienating one of Britain’s most cherished relationships.