The government of Bermuda has hit back at British efforts to end offshore financial secrecy, claiming the UK itself is a “tax haven”.
Speaking ahead of a meeting on Wednesday between Theresa May and the leaders of Britain’s overseas territories, Bermuda’s deputy premier and finance minister, Bob Richards, pushed back against proposed legislation that would create public registers naming the owners of offshore companies.
Richards said the UK should get its own house in order before making demands from its dependencies.
“The UK is a tax haven,” he said, citing non-dom laws that allow foreign nationals to live in Britain without paying tax on overseas income.
“You have more billionaires resident in London than any place on earth. They are not here for the weather, they are here for the tax climate. We have a double standard going on here.
“We have a much more transparent, much cleaner system than the countries that promulgate these rules in the first place. The popular notion that somehow there is something nefarious going on in a small island that is relatively successful is false.”
From April 2017, however, non-doms will lose some of their advantages and foreign nationals will no longer be able to enjoy tax breaks indefinitely in the UK. Those resident in the UK for 15 out of the previous 20 years will be liable for inheritance, capital gains and income tax on their worldwide assets.
A cross-party group of 88 MPs, led by the tax campaigner Margaret Hodge, is backing an amendment to the government’s criminal finances bill that would force British territories to follow the UK in making public their company ownership registers by 2020.
“There is a thing in this world called privacy and at least in my island privacy still exists,” added Richards. “There is no public right to know anybody’s private business.”
The Panama Papers exposed how thousands of offshore companies have been used to help hide the proceeds of fraud, political corruption and tax evasion.
Unlike most tax havens, Bermuda does keep a central government record of who owns its offshore entities. This information is available to other governments on request, but not to the general public.
Richards told the Guardian he would resist calls, first made by David Cameron in 2013, to open up the register. “The register in Bermuda is there to protect the government’s reputation … It is not the public’s business. We are not here to tell you who is doing business in Bermuda,” he said.