Since 1st July 2016, when Mr. Bush started in his role of Cayman Islands Representative to the UK and EU, the political landscape in the UK has been far from calm and stable. Just a week prior to this, the UK held a referendum that resulted in the decision to leave the European Union, now widely known as Brexit.
During the past 12 months, the UK has seen a new Prime Minster, a new Chancellor of the Exchequer, and a new Foreign Secretary, due to the referendum and subsequent government reshuffle. Within the same period, the new Prime Minister, Theresa May, called a snap election which resulted in a reduction in her party’s majority and a surge in popularity of the main opposition, the Labour Party. Within the FCO specifically, there has been three different Ministers responsible for the Overseas Territories, namely James Duddridge MP, Baroness Anelay and now Lord Ahmad of Wimbledon.
Through this turmoil and uncertainty, the Cayman Islands Government Office successfully reformed the All Party Parliamentary Group (APPG) for the Cayman Islands, under the chairmanship of Graham Brady MP, with 22 Members across both the House of Commons and House of Lords, joining the group. APPGs are cross-party groups that are run by and for Members of the Commons and Lords. The Cayman Islands APPG is important to the work conducted by the CIGO team as it formalizes access to MPs and Peers and when necessary, supports CIGO on important topics, such as legislation, government policy or future initiatives.
Having assessed the negative effects of not being actively engaged in the UK parliament for a number of years a political re-engagement plan was developed. As an initial element of the plan, Mr. Bush endeavoured to attend the three major political party conferences, which enhanced the team’s ability to hit the ground running as parliament resumed in October 2016.
Initial bilateral meetings were arranged with MPs and Peers to better gain an understanding of how the Cayman Islands were perceived within the UK’s Parliament generally and what was required to create and maintain positive relationships going forward. MPs and Peers such as Graham Brady MP and Lord Naseby, two longstanding supporters of the Cayman Islands, were particularly helpful in providing a true perspective. It was at this point where it became evident that Cayman’s absence from Westminster for an extended period was counterproductive and possibly harmful to Cayman in the long term.
The absence saw non-profit organizations (NGOs), such as Oxfam and Christian Aid, Transparency International and others execute a campaign of rhetoric geared towards their anti-offshore financial centres agenda, where they were able to gain a strong foothold within the walls of Westminster. For many years the voices of these NGOs were the only ones being heard and used as reference points when discussing the Cayman Islands and other OTs with financial services.
Having accomplished the objective to re-establish the APPG, chaired by Graham Brady, MP (with significant support and assistance from Andrew Rosendell MP), the primary deliverable was the effective utilization of this body to undo misperceptions with regards to the Cayman Islands financial services and to change the narrative with the help of relevant and positive stories around the islands.
Earlier in 2017, lobbying efforts where enhanced by the Office in response to amendments proposed to the Criminal Finance Bill. The Criminal Finance Bill, now known as the Criminal Finance Act 2017, was proposed by the Minister of State for the Home Office, The Hon Ben Wallace, which sought to enhance the UKs efforts of combating terrorism financing as well as creating corporate offences relating to tax evasion. The Bill, nor the later Act looked to legislate directly for the Overseas Territories generally or the Cayman Islands specifically. However, amendments were proposed on two occasions by an opposition MP and a Peer in both Houses of Parliament.
Both amendments sought to force legislation on the Cayman Islands and other OTs with financial services, to establish public registers of beneficial ownership of companies by 2019, through an ‘Order In Council’.
Through coordinated efforts by Representatives from all affected Overseas Territory Offices, headed up by Mr. Bush as Chair of the UK Overseas Territories Association (UKOTA) financial services sub-committee group, and in conjunction with the FCO and the Home Office, both amendments in the House of Commons and the House of Lords were defeated.
Since this time, Mr. Bush has increased the number of meetings with MPs and Peers with the objective of giving them content in the form of the real and true facts of the islands’ financial services. In his endeavours to shift the focus to other aspects of the Cayman-UK relationship, Mr. Bush’s discussions with MPs and Peers often emphasize the little-known heritage, cultural and lineage connections which are being further researched through the Office.
Another essential pillar in undoing the misperceptions of the Cayman Islands is creating networking environments. Mr. Bush embraces every opportunity for the office to host or facilitate formal meetings, events, and activities in the Palace of Westminster, where visiting CIG delegations can interact and network with key MPs and Peers in their own environment.
In addition to the formal surroundings at Westminster, another strategy is to create atmospheres where parliamentarians can enjoy a meal with the very highest level of the CIG. This enables a personal and communal environment for interaction and networking. The office utilizes every opportunity of the frequent and necessary visits of the CIG high level delegations to arrange and facilitate informal receptions, luncheons, and dinners.
Whilst political conversations going forward will no doubt be geared towards Brexit discussions and negotiations; Mr. Bush and his team’s strategy is geared towards strengthening connections between the UK and Cayman with the aim of meeting those MPs who have returned to the office following the recent election.