‘If there is any backsliding, we will seek to legislate’
UK politicians will attempt to legislate for Jersey again if the Island ‘backslides’ on commitments it has made to publish details of company ownership, an MP has said.
Speaking exclusively to the JEP in London on the eve of the Brexit vote, Andrew Mitchell MP said that he and fellow politician Dame Margaret Hodge had ‘irrefutable’ legal advice that the UK could pass laws on the Crown Dependencies – Jersey, Guernsey and the Isle of Man – should it need to.
Last year a constitutional crisis threatened to erupt when the pair twice tried to lodge amendments to bills being passed in the UK parliament which would have required the islands to publish fully transparent registers of beneficial ownership of companies registered within their jurisdiction.
Each of the dependencies opposed the move claiming that the UK parliament could not legislate for them. But earlier this year each of the islands’ governments moved their positions and committed to producing transparent registers by 2023 in line with EU member states.
Mr Mitchell said that the commitment made by the Crown Dependencies was very wise but he would take action if it was not upheld.
‘Dame Margaret Hodge and I had, from the finest lawyers in the land, in my view, irrefutable legal opinion that Westminster had the right to legislate and there would have been a sufficient coalition across the House of Commons to legislate and drive this legislation through,’ he said.
‘Taking this all in the round, plus the fact that the EU has insisted on open registers by 2023, the Crown Dependencies, very wisely in my opinion, decided that they would accept open registers of beneficial ownership by 2023.
‘This is longer than Margaret Hodge and I wanted because this is urgent but, as long as there is no backsliding or dirty work at the crossroads, we will accept that and won’t seek to persuade parliament to legislate.
‘If there is any backsliding, there will be no more negotiations – we will mainly seek to legislate.’
Mr Mitchell explained that he was prompted to bring legislation to force corporate transparency on the Crown Dependencies and British Overseas Territories due to concerns that they were being used for illicit money-laundering.
He added that he did not accept arguments that the move would present a risk to privacy or the security of individuals because the UK and Crown Dependencies had proper rule of law and there were sufficient protections in place.
And the Conservative MP said that the Crown Dependencies would be ‘unwise’ to go independent in response to any move to legislate for them, as they would be ‘cast off into the unknown of a dangerous wider world’.
In further interviews with the JEP, which will be published later this week, Andrew Rosindell MP and Alan Whitehead MP, who are both members of the All Party Parliamentary Group for the the Channel Islands, criticised the approach taken by Mr Mitchell and Dame Margaret.
Mr Whitehead, the Labour MP for Southampton Test, said that he supported the principle of greater corporate transparency but felt the islands’ constitutional position needed to be better understood and respected.
Meanwhile, Mr Rosindell questioned the validity of Mr Mitchell’s legal advice.
‘I don’t know what advice Andrew received. I’m not a constitutional lawyer but Jersey and Guernsey have never been part of the United Kingdom and are only associated with the UK via the Crown,’ he said
‘If they chose not to be Crown Dependencies and to go independent they could, so I think he is wrong but let’s see the legal advice.
‘I heard Dominic Grieve speak at a fringe event at the Conservative Party conference a few years ago and his view was that the British government can legislate for the Overseas Territories but not for the Crown Dependencies. So maybe Andrew Mitchell should consult with Dominic Grieve about this.
‘If we go down this road we are imposing laws on you without giving you any say. We are going against hundreds of years of convention.’
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