Pandora Papers Show True Face of Global Britain

Through its network of tax havens, the U.K. is the fulcrum of a system that benefits the rich and powerful writes Adam Ramsay. 

Cherie and Tony and Blair in 2003. The former U.K. prime minister and his wife are among those mentioned in the Pandora Papers. (, CC BY 4.0, Wikimedia Commons)

By Adam Ramsay

Perhaps more than anything else, the Pandora Papers — the tranche of documents published Sunday night, which reveal the secret wealth of the world’s rich and powerful — tell a story about Britain.

There’s the role, for instance, played by the British Virgin Islands, an overseas territory of the U.K. that functions as a tax haven. Czechia’s multimillionaire prime minister used the territory to hide his ownership of a chateau in France. Others, including the family of Kenyan President Uhuru Kenyatta and Vladimir Putin’s PR man, have made similar use of the islands to conceal wealth — while Tony and Cherie Blair reportedly saved £312,000 in stamp duty when they bought a London property from a company registered in the British Virgin Islands in 2017.

Then there’s London itself. The leaked documents show how the King of Jordan squirrelled personal cash away in the capital’s property market, as did key allies of Imran Khan, Pakistan’s president.

More details will emerge in the coming days. But one thing is already clear. This isn’t a story about countries on the periphery of the world economy. It is a story about how the British state drives a global system in which the richest extract wealth from the rest.

British Through & Through

Cayman Islands government administration building. (Kmanian345, CC BY-SA 4.0, Wikimedia Commons)

The British Virgin Islands were captured by England from the Dutch in 1672. By then, the indigenous population had already gone — either slaughtered in an unrecorded genocide or fled for fear of one. The islands have been a haven for pirates of various sorts ever since.

But this is just one part of Britain’s offshore network. There are around 18 legislatures across the globe that Westminster is ultimately responsible for. These include some of the worst offenders in the world of money laundering, tax dodging and financial secrecy. The Cayman Islands are British. So is Gibraltar. So are Anguilla and Bermuda.

These places aren’t just British in an abstract sense. Under the 2002 British Overseas Territories Act, their citizens are British citizens. They operate under the protection of the British diplomatic service. And, when need be, they can rely on Her Majesty’s Armed Forces: in the last 40 years, Britain has twice gone to war to defend Overseas Territories. Once was when Argentina tried to claim back the Falklands/Malvinas. The other time was the invasion of Iraq, when the British government claimed that Saddam Hussein’s weapons programme threatened its military bases at Akrotiri and Dhekelia on the island of Cyprus.

In total, experts estimate, Britain and its overseas territories are responsible for facilitating around a third of the total tax dodged around the world. And that’s before we consider money stolen by corrupt rulers, or the proceeds of crime. Not to mention the way that billionaires’ hidden wealth allows them to influence our political systems in secret.

Westminster Palace, aka Houses of Parliament, and Big Ben, at night. (Maurice via Flickr)

Westminster Palace, aka Houses of Parliament, and Big Ben, at night. (Maurice via Flickr)

This complexity is no accident. The U.K., unlike almost any other country on earth, lacks a written constitution. The rules about how the rules are made are set through “convention,” an endless fudge that ultimately amounts to them being made up by our rulers as they go along.

We see this most clearly in how the domestic territories of the British state are governed: Scotland, Wales, Northern Ireland, Greater London and the City of London each has its own arrangements, each absurd in its own way. Each of these messes leaves a different tangled thicket in which the crooks of the world can hide their cash.

Seen from the perspective of international capital, though, it is the Overseas Territories, as well as the Crown Dependencies of Jersey, Guernsey and Mann, which form the most significant part of this complex. They use the malleability of the British constitution to form a network of safes in which the rich can hide their cash.

A New Era

Although no one knows for sure how much money is hidden in tax havens, of which the British territories make up a significant chunk, the figures involved are so vast that academics at the Transnational Institute in the Netherlands have described them as “the backbone of global capitalism.”

Seen this way, the constitutional flexibility of the British state isn’t just some post-medieval hangover. It’s a hyper-modern tool in an era of global surveillance capitalism, where the rich can flit around offshore while the rest are forever trapped by borders.

Through its empire, the British state played a key role in inventing modern capitalism. Now, the U.K. is helping reinvent capitalism once more, by extending the protection of a constitution designed by the powerful, for the powerful, to the billionaires, oligarchs and criminals of the world.

Adam Ramsay is openDemocracy’s main site editor. You can follow him at @adamramsay. Adam is a member of the Scottish Green Party, sits on the board of Voices for Scotland and advisory committees for the Economic Change Unit and the journal Soundings.

This article is from OpenDemocracy.

The views expressed are solely those of the author and may or may not reflect those of Consortium News.

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7 comments for “Pandora Papers Show True Face of Global Britain

  1. October 6, 2021 at 12:37

    A realistic perspective on the Pandora Papers that the Deep State, through its corporate media tools, will obfuscate.

  2. Jerome Brown
    October 5, 2021 at 17:38

    The cash siphoned off by tax dodgers is what keeps the rest of us in chains. These days we cannot even be sure that our votes count for anything. In this corrupt world of bribery, corruption and God knows what else,we are stuck with the same old bent politicians, judiciary, fraud investigation squad, police, council members. So nothing ever changes.

  3. paul
    October 5, 2021 at 14:53

    This is all complete garbage, like the Panama Papers. It reveals nothing of importance against anyone of importance. It is just a synthetic engineered CIA/ MI6 “leak” laundered through tame media hacks like Luke Harding. Strange how all these “earth shattering revelations” never have anything to say about the Clinton Clan, the Bidens or anyone of that ilk, and how they never breathe a word about Israel. The “crusading journalists” organisation involved is well funded by Soros, and a rogues gallery of all the usual suspects.
    It probably has one or two actual objectives. It may convince some of the more simple minded amongst us that the lying corporate MSM still does investigative journalism. It diverts attention from the big boys. It targets some of the favourite targets like Putin with evidence free innuendo. It is touted as evidence for the need to implement swingeing new financial controls for the hoi poloi – like the new reporting requirement for $600 transactions.

    • Jerome Brown
      October 5, 2021 at 17:43

      Well said, Paul. I agree. ???

  4. Joe Wallace
    October 5, 2021 at 14:41

    The author writes that “The U.K., unlike almost any other country on earth, lacks a written constitution. The rules about how the rules are made are set through ‘convention,’ an endless fudge that ultimately amounts to them being made up by our rulers as they go along.”
    I take his point that the “rules” built up by “convention” have facilitated corruption in tax havens, but, to eliminate confusion, the contrast between the constraints of a “written constitution” and the flexibility of the UK’s more improvised, ad hoc “constitution designed by the powerful, for the powerful” that now extends “protection to the billionaires, oligarchs and criminals of the world” should be more sharply and explicitly drawn.

  5. Henry Smith
    October 5, 2021 at 06:43

    These papers show that the USA is the world’s true leader when it comes to freedom, anti-corruption and honesty. Whilst there are numerous examples of corrupt South Americans, Africans, Europeans, Russians there are NO corrupt Americans. Well done USA !!

    (Irony alert)

  6. Aaron
    October 5, 2021 at 04:58

    Tycoons without borders, just what the world needs. Big Ben ticks away and time is money and Little Tony Blair and his ilk have been busy little bees, one third of the world’s hidden cash takes a long, conscious effort to pull that off.

Comments are closed.