The UK and its Overseas Territories will work together to “counter hostile sovereignty claims” and defend the right to self-determination, the Joint Ministerial Council said in a communique yesterday.
The council, which brings together UK ministers and leaders of the Overseas Territories including Gibraltar, met at Lancaster House in London for discussions ranging from security and sovereignty to territorial waters, tax transparency, the environment and economic development.
“We affirmed the importance of promoting the right of the peoples of the Territories to self-determination, a collective responsibility of all parts of the UK Government,” they said in the communique.
“We committed to explore ways in which the Overseas Territories can maintain international support in countering hostile sovereignty claims.”
The UK and the Territories also committed themselves to ensuring the political, economic, social and educational advancement of the people of the Territories and their just treatment and protection from abuses.
The communiqué reads: “The principle of equal rights and self-determination of peoples, as enshrined in the UN Charter, applies to the peoples of the Overseas Territories.”
The meeting was attended by a Gibraltar Government delegation led by the Chief Minister Fabian Picardo.
On issues of tax and transparency the JMC stated that the Overseas Territories were responsible for their own tax rates and generating the revenue necessary for the provision of essential public services.
“It is not appropriate to refer to British Territories as ‘tax havens’,” political leaders stressed in the policy paper.
All Overseas Territories with financial services also confirmed their full commitment to international co-operation in tax matters, and to the fight against money laundering, tax evasion, illicit finances and corruption.
This was reflected not only in adherence to bilateral and multilateral agreements, but also in implementing the Financial Action Task Force (FATF) standards and enforcing legal instruments in everyday practice.
Furthermore, political leaders have underlined the active participation of Territories with financial services sectors in the OECD Global Forum on Transparency and Exchange of Information for Tax Purposes and welcomed the commitment of those Territories to be early adopters of the new OECD global standard on tax transparency, with first exchange of data taking place in 2017.
The UK Overseas Territories are also committed to sustaining successful international centres “that contribute to the prosperity and development of our societies, recognising the importance of transparency, effective legal systems and good governance in achieving this.”
“We acknowledged the importance of bilateral engagement on matters affecting Territories’ financial services sectors.”
The UK has been pushing for the Overseas Territories beneficial ownership information to meet three criteria.
Firstly, UK and domestic law enforcement and tax authorities must be able to access information without restriction. Secondly, UK and domestic law enforcement and tax authorities should be able to quickly identify all companies that a particular beneficial owner has a stake in, without needing to submit multiple and repeated requests. And finally, companies or their beneficial owners must not be alerted to the fact that an investigation is under way.
At this years’ JMC meeting the Overseas Territories agreed to put information on the people who ultimately own and control companies – so-called beneficial owners – in centralised registries “or similarly effective systems”, representing a small step towards greater transparency.
However, the Territories have refused to match the UK’s commitment to make beneficial ownership information public.
Political leaders discussed the details of how these systems should be implemented, including through technical dialogue between the Overseas Territories and UK law enforcement authorities on further developing a timely, safe and secure information exchange process to increase our collective effectiveness for the purposes of law enforcement.
The Territories agreed that addressing this issue would be given the “highest priority” and that progress on implementation would be kept under continuous and close review.