The Panama Papers and the London Anti-Corruption Summit
Forget the referendum on membership of the European Union, the real threat to the UK’s sovereignty comes not from Brussels but from tax havens, money laundering and sanctions avoidance. The revelations over the past 24 hours from the 11 million documents leaked from the Panama-based law firm Mossack Fonseca to the International Consortium of Investigative Journalists points so many fingers in so many directions that it is difficult to know where to start. So why not turn to a Prime Minister who has already promised to show leadership on this issue? The same one who has asked his country to weigh its membership of the European Union in the balance in the June referendum.
The UK Prime Minister’s international Anti-Corruption Summit on 12 May 2016 is to be welcomed. However, the UK and its offshore dependencies have particular questions to answer if London is to lead the charge. Taken as a whole, the Union flag flies over more tax loopholes than any other, yet it barely makes the UK’s mass media. Even today’s revelations will not sustain enough domestic scrutiny unless the Prime Minister sets in place fundamental reforms that might become his greatest legacy. If we look around the world, the worst abusers of human rights, the most corrupt of politicians and dirtiest of all businesses have much to thank those corners of the world where money (and other assets) can be squirrelled away, quietly and with few questions asked.
Some transparency would be a start – a registry of all businesses based in the tax havens is an essential first step. However, many will continue to ask why such loop holes continue to exist when it is clear they benefit all those who enjoy levels of impunity – be they the super rich, the corrupt or sanction breakers. Prime Minister Cameron has to make the case convincingly that his government is serious about its intent to no longer be a provider of shadow and shade to people who care little about the interests of Britain or its people.
This will take particular courage because today’s allegations even reached the financial dealings of David Cameron’s own father, but then many world leaders will be touched by this scandal over the weeks ahead. Prime Minister Cameron could make a difference by not defending the indefensible (as some world leaders will try) but by setting a new legacy for his own country and for generations to come.
We hope that the Prime Minister will also shine a light on other places where reform is badly needed, such as major sports bodies for example. But condemning the likes of FIFA now requires very little political capital and raises the issue about why governments were silent for so long about corruption in sport. The Panama Papers have raised the game and set a new standard for leadership on transparency and anti-corruption. The 12 May London Summit must tackle the issue of tax havens head on. Perhaps by doing so, the Prime Minister can also show the British people that sovereignty is undermined in sunnier places than Brussels.