Saturday, 15 June 2013

Asking or telling?

Prime Minister David Cameron will press its overseas tax havens to sign up to an international transparency treaty in London on Saturday, hoping to bolster British credibility ahead of next week's G8 summit. 
 Kudos to the BBC's Evan Davis for asking the Chief Secretary to the Treasury, Danny Alexander, the obvious question this morning. Does the government really have to ask British Overseas Territories, ever so nicely, to share their information, if they wouldn't mind awfully? Couldn't the government just tell them to do it? They are British Overseas Territories, after all. Danny Alexander replied that he wasn't enough of a constitutional expert to be able to answer that one.

Fair enough, neither am I. But it is a very interesting and relevant question. And there does seem to be a dramatic precedent that gives a tantalising clue.

Consider a British Overseas Territory that wasn't a notorious tax haven. Remember the Chagos Archipelago? You know the place, where the Brits decided to evict the entire native population, with no right of return, back in the 1970s in order to let the United States to build a military base? The archipelago that the British government turned into a marine reserve the size of France in 2010, ostensibly because we're a nation of deep green nature lovers, but probably just in order to make sure the displaced people, who lived by fishing and farming coconuts, wouldn't have a snowball's chance in hell of ever going home?

It's probably a bit more complicated than that, but this suggests to me that when puts its mind to it, the British Government can do pretty much what it damn well likes with its overseas territories.

Worth looking into - after all, as someone recently pointed out, how many divisions has the Cayman Islands got?