Good Afternoon Ladies and Gentlemen:
It is now just over a week since the UK Parliament accepted an amendment to impose public registers of beneficial ownership on the Virgin Islands and other Overseas Territories. My Government continues to consider this a top priority for the Territory and to actively evaluate the implications of that decision and explore all available options.
Ladies and Gentlemen we have two principal matters before us.
The first of these is what we have recognised as a fundamental breach in the constitutional relationship and modern partnership between the United Kingdom and the Virgin Islands nurtured over the past ½ century. This relationship evolved from direct colonial rule to a progressive constitutional partnership, where the democratically elected Government of the Virgin Islands has clear responsibility for some matters and the United Kingdom has theirs. These responsibilities are spelt out in the Virgin Islands Constitutional Order, 2007 and while it may be that this relationship allows for certain decisions to be made on behalf of the Territory by the United Kingdom, the decision the United Kingdom Parliament seemed to make on 1stMay is not one of them. I maintain that that decision is fundamentally flawed and we will address this unjustified and discriminatory action in every possible and available forum.
Naturally, we will also continue to engage directly with the United Kingdom Government in the hope that right and reason can prevail. There is no international standard requiring public registers of beneficial ownership and the BVI continues to meet our information exchange and international cooperation obligations to the United Kingdom and other countries and to meet international standards throughout our international business industry.
Secondly Ladies and Gentlemen, we cannot avoid the fact that this decision poses a significant reputational and economic threat to these Islands and its financial services industry. The BVI has consistently stated that it will not introduce public registers of company beneficial ownership until it is a global standard. I want to assure you that nothing that has happened in the last two weeks changes this position. If a global standard is ever adopted, any public register of beneficial ownership must respect and protect fundamental rights: that is non-negotiable.
I encourage all of you to remain as engaged and inquisitive as you have been in the issues surrounding last week’s events. Significantly, this heightened level of unity and engagement is manifesting itself in the community with the organisation of a public non-partisan march on 24th May. Having led the constitutional delegation in 2007 and also as Premier, I fully support the right of the people in this Territory to freedom of expression and freedom of peaceful assembly and association. I fully endorse this march which from all indications will be a seminal event for reflection and solidarity. I also call on all participants to maintain a peaceful albeit resolute posture throughout all events.
I have witnessed and received tremendous support and empathy for our position from persons from all walks of life and from all corners of the globe. I say thank you again to all our supporters, well-wishers and clients for your continued confidence in these Islands.
Finally, Ladies and Gentlemen, the Virgin Islands will remain an international standard bearer for financial services. We will stand unified as a Territory and fight the United Kingdom Parliament’s decision for all the violations and injustices that it represents.