Nearly three-quarters of Britons think the government should do more to tackle economic crime in the country’s overseas territories, according to a survey, as diplomats prepare to meet with MPs in London this week.
The Survation poll, commissioned by the UK Anti-Corruption Coalition, found that 72 per cent of the UK public thought the government should take more responsibility for clamping down on money laundering and tax evasion in Britain’s offshore financial centres.
The figures come as senior diplomats from the overseas territories arrive in the UK for Joint Ministerial Council meetings with the government on Tuesday and Wednesday.
They are set to discuss timelines for the territories to create public registers of their significant beneficial owners, which parliament passed into law in 2018.
Overseas territories are required to establish these registers by the end of this year.
However, Duncan Hames, director of policy at Transparency International UK, noted that most were “far from being on track to meet the deadline”.
A freedom of information request by law firm Pinsent Masons found in May that HMRC was tracking 512 UK firms suspected of failing to conduct enough business activities in tax havens to legitimately claim they operate there, up 84 per cent from the same time last year.
Increased scrutiny comes as part of the OECD’s No or Only Nominal Tax Jurisdiction project, which looks to monitor companies’ activities in 12 known tax havens, including the Cayman Islands and British Virgin Islands.
“Our overseas territories and crown dependencies must bring an end to the decades of secrecy which have allowed wealthy oligarchs, criminal gangs, drug smugglers and human traffickers to hide and launder their dirty money,” said Labour MP Dame Margaret Hodge, chair of the all-party parliamentary group on anti-corruption and responsible tax.
“This means they must stand by their commitments to establish public registers of beneficial ownership by the end of this year. Members of parliament legislated on this nearly five years ago, so these tax havens must either respect the will of parliament, or government must step in and force them to honour their promises.”
An HMRC spokesperson told City A.M.: “We have a strong track record in tackling offshore non-compliance. We have secured around £621m from offshore initiatives since 2019, demonstrating our commitment to tackling all forms of non-compliance and ensuring everyone pays their share of tax.”
A spokesperson for the UK Overseas Territories Association added: “The overseas territories do not tolerate illicit finance operating in our jurisdictions, and share a commitment to promoting the highest global standards of transparency and compliance.”
City A.M. approached the Foreign Office for comment.