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The Guardian view on UK tax havens: MPs are right to get tough | Editorial

It is five years since the government promised to force Britain’s overseas tax havens to open up. This week MPs have used their power to make rules that are long overdue

It is fully five years since David Cameron put the crackdown on tax avoidance at the top of his agenda for the 2013 G8 summit. That same year, he and George Osborne promised a register of beneficial ownership of UK-registered companies. That register came into force in 2016. But it did not apply to Britain’s archipelago of colonial and other possessions which have become rich and disruptive through their tax-haven status. Pressure therefore mounted for them to open up too; there was talk of a blacklist of the uncooperative. Revelations from the Panama and Paradise papers drew attention to the scale of the untaxed money involved. Mr Cameron promised to pull away the “shroud of secrecy”. At the same time, the European Union has produced even tougher anti-money-laundering directives, the latest of which will come into force next year.

During these five years, many of the tax havens have dug in against change. British ministers have gone along with their objections and delays – proposing voluntary systems and limiting access to the data. This week, however, parliament finally pushed back. The sanctions and anti-money-laundering bill has been steadily working its way through the Commons since February. On Tuesday it reached a crunch, when the government was forced to back down and accept backbench amendments that turn the screw more tightly on the UK’s overseas tax havens. An all-party effort, led by the Conservative Andrew Mitchell and Labour’s Margaret Hodge, demanded that there must be transparent beneficial ownership registers in British overseas territories such as the British Virgin Islands and the Cayman Islands. On Tuesday, the government caved in.

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