British overseas territories win reprieve after threatening legal action or secession
'The government has been accused of defying parliament by delaying plans to require British tax havens such as the British Virgin Islands to bring in public registers that reveal the true identity of owners of companies sheltering assets.
Foreign Office ministers have caved in after a rebellion in the British overseas territories, including threats to take the government to court – or even to secede from the UK. The British-administered tax shelters have always been seen as a blight on the Conservative claim to be fighting the multibillion-pound corruption industry.
The Foreign Office told the overseas territories that they need not now introduce compulsory public registers until 2023. That would be three years after the date MPs had thought they had set by law in a fractious debate last May.
The date means public registers in the overseas territories, seen as critical to winding down tax avoidance, will not be introduced until a decade after David Cameron first raised the issue as a flagship anti-corruption measure ahead of the UK chairmanship of the G7 industrialised economies.
A cross-party alliance of MPs last May, led by the former Conservative cabinet minister Andrew Mitchell and the former chair of the public accounts committee Margaret Hodge, had forced the government to concede that it would introduce an order in council by 2020 requiring public registers to be set up if the overseas territories had not done so voluntarily by that date.
Hodge said: “This new timetable is a sleight of hand and an attempt to ignore the clear will of parliament. It was clear not that that order in council should be introduced in 2020, but the public register. We will have to consider what steps are taken to restore what was intended.”'
Read more: MPs attack ministers over delay to tax havens' public registers