UK Overseas Territories Minister Mark Simmonds *Photo supplied
UK Overseas Territories Minister Mark Simmonds *Photo supplied

WEDNESDAY, SEPT. 26: Britain will go into bat for Bermuda in a row over US presidential candidate Mitt Romney’s business interests in Bermuda.

The new UK Overseas Territories Minister Mark Simmonds said: “It is unfortunate that media coverage of aspects of the election campaign in the US has focused so sharply on a misrepresentation of Bermuda as a tax haven due to the fact that Bermuda has chosen a low tax model which, although different from the US or UK, generates the equivalent of $16,000 for every man, woman and child on the island.

“The UK will continue to support the efforts of the Bermuda Government to counter the false impression that Bermuda is a tax haven.”

Mr Simmonds, in his first Bermuda interview since taking over as Foreign & Commonwealth Office Minister with responsibility for the Overseas Territories, was speaking after Mr Romney’s investments in Bermuda sparked outrage among Democratic opponents in the US.

The spotlight turned on Bermuda in July after it emerged that Mr Romney has offshore accounts, including a shell company in Bermuda.

The Bermuda-based Santaky High Yield Assets Investors, which recently posted earnings of nearly $2 million, was transferred to a blind trust in Mr Romney’s wife’s name in 2003, just before he became Governor of Massachussets.

The company did not appear on Mr Romney’s disclosure forms until he released his 2010 tax returns during the Republican presidential primaries.

Supporters of Democrat President Barack Obama queued up to condemn the offshore interests, which cut his tax bill in the US.

There is, however, no suggestion that Mr Romney, who also has business interests in the Caymans and Switzerland, has done anything illegal.

Mr Simmonds said: “Bermuda’s record on probity is strong as can be attested to by the 33 tax information exchange agreements and three double taxation agreements it has signed with other countries and by its active role in the OECD (Organisation for Economic Cooperation and Development) Global Forum.”

Mr Simmonds added that he would be hosting a beefed-up Overseas Territories round table, the Joint Ministerial Forum, in London in December in the wake of a Coalition White Paper on the Overseas Territories, the first review since 1999.

He said: “It will bring together UK Ministers and political leaders from the Territories to give a lead to work to review and implement the strategy and commitments in the White Paper.

“It will give me an early opportunity to meet all the Overseas Territory leaders.

“I want us to be ambitious in developing plans to implement specific proposals. I want this to be a forum where we can engage on the issues that matter.”

He added: “The UK is proud of the Overseas Territories and is ambitious for their future. Our strategy is to focus on re-engagement between the UK and Territories, cooperation on good governance, public financial management and economic planning and improving the quality and range of assistance to the Territories.”

Referendum

Mr Simmonds added that the Coalition government in the UK maintained the previous position that it would back the independence of any of the Overseas Territories if there was a “clear and constitutionally expressed wish” to break the ties with the UK.

And he hinted strongly that the UK would want a referendum on the issue, rather than a commitment as part of a General Election platform.

Mr Simmonds said: “Any decision to cut the constitutional link between the UK and a Territory should be on the basis of the clear and constitutionally expressed wish of the people of the Territory.  There is an expectation that this would be by referendum.”

He added: “But we do genuinely value the relationship that Britain has with Bermuda and hope that it will continue.”

Mr Simmonds said that talks with the US on four Ugyurs, former terrorism suspects and detainees in the US Guantanamo Bay jail in Cuba, who were resettled in Bermuda in deal cut between former Premier Ewart Brown and Mr Obama’s administration continued.

He said: “This is an on-going matter that we keep under review with out US counterparts.”

Mr Simmonds, a UK MP for more than a decade, was appointed to his first Ministerial post earlier this month, replacing Henry Bellingham.

Mr Simmonds, the Conservative MP for Boston and Skegness in England, is a chartered surveyor by profession.

He has served as both shadow Development and Foreign Affairs Minister in Opposition.

Mr Simmonds said: “Both positions allowed me to follow closely the work of the Foreign & Commonwealth Office and gave me an excellent grounding for working with the Overseas Territories.”

He added that he had already visited three UK Overseas Territories and served on the All-Parliamentary Group for the British Virgin Islands in the Caribbean.