Politics Explained

What was Geoffrey Cox doing in the British Virgin Islands?

The controversial aspect is how the former attorney general found time to undertake arduous duties while performing as a member of the British House of Commons, writes Sean O’Grady

Wednesday 10 November 2021 21:30

When he was attorney general under Theresa May, Sir Geoffrey Cox once berated his fellow MPs in one of the very many acrimonious debates about Brexit by asking the simple question: “What are you doing?”

The admonishment now applies to him, given the recent controversy. What, specifically, was the Right Honourable Sir Geoffrey Cox QC, member of parliament for Torridge and West Devon, doing in the British Virgin Islands (BVI) in the first place?

It requires some context. The BVI is best known as a tax haven, a place where the wealthy may park their substantial assets, money and property in anonymous shell accounts and free of most, if not all, forms of taxation. Constitutionally, it is a British Overseas Territory in the Caribbean, or what used to be called a crown colony. As such, it enjoys a certain amount of internal self-government. Or, rather, it did, because its governance is currently being examined by a commission of inquiry imposed on it by the ultimate power, the UK – a highly unusual event. The commission is chaired by a retired British judge, Sir Gary Hickinbottom. In due course, Sir Gary’s commission will report to the British-appointed governor, John Rankin, representing the Queen, rather than the BVI premier, Andrew Fahie. This is the commission with which Sir Geoffrey has been associated. For his fee of £400,000 plus value added tax, Sir Geoffrey advised the BVI administration and undertook a review of its workings.

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