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Ministers back down in secrecy fight with UK tax havens

16 January 2017 - Ministers appear to be losing their nerve in their battle against dangerous secrecy in UK tax havens, in a shift that calls into question Theresa May’s seriousness about tackling tax dodging, Christian Aid is warning.

Ministers’ apparent U-turn emerged in the government’s response to a report by MPs on the International Development Committee, who had urged the government to ‘use the full weight of its influence to lobby the UK’s Overseas Territories and Crown Dependencies to increase transparency by creating public beneficial ownership registers’.

In its response today, the government disagreed with that recommendation.

Simon Kirkland, Christian Aid’s UK Parliamentary and Political Adviser, said: “We are shocked and disappointed that despite the abundant evidence that criminals  are abusing UK tax haven secrecy, ministers seem to have gone soft.

“In its response to MPs today, and in contrast with its recent statements in Parliament, the Government has seemingly dropped its demand for the Overseas Territories and Crown Dependencies to follow the UK itself and adopt public registers of who really owns the myriad companies they host.

“This is shameful, because people in developing countries lose out massively as money is shifted from their countries to tax havens, through corruption, tax evasion and money laundering. The UK’s overseas tax havens are a cornerstone of international secrecy that prevents citizens knowing which of their politicians, officials and elites are stealing from them.

“The UK government’s apparent climbdown is a U-turn from what David Cameron himself told UK tax havens just weeks before his resignation. We need urgent clarification from the Prime Minister that the Government still believes full public transparency is the gold standard for the UK and its territories, along with a plan and timeline to achieve it.

“In her first speech as Prime Minister, Theresa May said she would prioritise ordinary people over the powerful and the wealthy. In her first fight with the UK’s tax havens, she must not lose her nerve.”

Dame Margaret Hodge MP, Chair of the cross-party Responsible Tax All Party Parliamentary Group, said: “We recognise the progress made by both the UK Government and the Overseas Territories.

“However, full transparency is key in the battle against tax evasion, money laundering and aggressive tax avoidance. Parliamentarians have been very clear that they want the same levels of transparency in UK tax havens as we have here in the UK. More than 80 MPs from eight parties have signed my amendment to the Criminal Finances Bill to ensure that the UK’s Overseas Territories publish their lists of who owns which companies by the time of the next general election.

“If Ministers are indeed climbing down from even backing the publication of these registers in due course, then that is very disappointing. The Prime Minister should urgently clarify that she wants these registers to be published and set out a timeline for that to happen.”

For more information please contact Rachel Baird on rbaird@christian-aid.org or call 24-hour press duty phone: 07850 242950. 

Notes to editors: 

1. Christian Aid works in some of the world's poorest communities in around 40 countries at any one time. We act where there is great need, regardless of religion, helping people to live a full life, free from poverty. We provide urgent, practical and effective assistance in tackling the root causes of poverty as well as its effects.

2. Christian Aid’s core belief is that the world can and must be changed so that poverty is ended: this is what we stand for. Everything we do is about ending poverty and injustice: swiftly, effectively, sustainably. Our strategy document Partnership for Change explains how we set about this task.

3. Christian Aid is a member of ACT Alliance, a global coalition of more than 130 churches and church-related organisations that work together in humanitarian assistance, advocacy and development. 

4. Follow Christian Aid's newswire on Twitter: http://twitter.com/caid_newswire

5. For more information about the work of Christian Aid, visit http://www.christianaid.org.uk

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