Colonialism isn't the best answer to tax dodging

Party like it's 1799.

Photograph: Getty Images

An interesting point from Ed Conway's write-up of the G8's tax debates. It seems Germany and co aren't particularly happy with British Overseas Territories:

Moreover, it transpires that neither Germany or Russia wanted to sign up to some of the G8 pledges on tax evasion. Other countries remain less enthusiastic about the avoidance/evasion clampdown. Others remain sceptical about the UK’s motives – earlier this year Austria’s finance minister Maria Fekter said she laughed when she first heard George Osborne was focusing on tax.

“Great Britain has many money laundering centres and tax havens in its immediate legal remit – the Channel Islands, Gibraltar, the Cayman Islands, Virgin Islands.

“These are all hot spots for tax evasion and money laundering.”

It's similar to a line pushed domestically: the British overseas territories are British, so we should do something about them. It sounds less appealing when you phrase it as what it actually is: colonialism for the left.

The various islands left in the British Empire are, largely, independent. Britain takes responsibility for defence and foreign affairs, and the Home Office recommends the Queen on who to appoint as governor, but beyond that, they are self-determining. They have elected legislatures and heads of government, as well as their own courts systems (although appeals go to the Privy Council) Most of them would probably be fully independent by now – once decolonialisation began, it went along at a fair clip – except they're too small to realistically survive on their own.

You can be fairly sure, however, that if they did survive, and were made fully independent, their first act would probably not be to shrink their financial sectors. That's one of the few areas in which a small economy actually has a competitive advantage over bigger ones.

So what Austria wants is for the Britain to over-rule independent, elected governments and force them to follow policies which aren't in their best interest. I know the sun never set on the British Empire, but that's ridiculous.