Burt right over heavy-handed Britain
For about 150 years, there has been a convention that the British Parliament will not interfere with the internal laws of self-governing territories without the consent of the local government.
On Tuesday, although not quite yet interfering, the British Parliament threw down a gauntlet threatening that if the Bermuda Government does not introduce a public register of beneficial ownership of companies by 2020, the Secretary of State will table an order before Parliament for it to vote on: to “require” Bermuda to introduce a public register.
Of course, this may not come to pass. The British Parliament may have less of an appetite for interference in 2020 when the time comes to vote on the order.
However, this is a threat that has been made, and one that Bermuda ought to take seriously.
If Britain is allowed to get away with this once, they will only get bolder with their interference in future.
I was glad to see David Burt’s strong statement that his government will ensure Bermuda’s constitutional status will be respected.
In my view, this is the appropriate response from Bermuda and our jurisdiction should refuse to implement any such “requirement” imposed by Britain and, further, refuse to enforce the law if Britain imposes it on Bermuda.
More immediately, our government could inform the British authorities that, on principle, they will not even entertain any discussion of a public register, or further co-operation on related matters, until the British law “requiring” them to do so has been repealed.
Bermuda may also have remedies under international law. Britain is signed up to the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights, Article 1 of which protects the self-determination of all peoples to freely pursue their economic, social and cultural development.
An interference with the internal affairs of an overseas territory in the face of 150 years of parliamentary convention could be treated as a violation of Article 1, and Bermuda — and other Overseas Territories — could take Britain to the United Nations tribunal dealing with civil rights violations for adjudication.
There are many great benefits that Bermudians reap from the relationship with Britain, but it is also important to ensure the British understand that, although Bermuda may be small, it does not entitle it to tread on us.
Barrister and attorney
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