With the shenanigans of Owen Paterson and Geoffrey Cox making headlines, politicians and pundits are finally starting to use the ‘C’ word. It’s about time. It’s now five years since the Italian mafia expert Roberto Saviano described the UK as “undoubtedly” the most corrupt country in the world.
His argument has gained momentum since then. It’s not that the UK is particularly prone to the sorts of middle-class extortion or nepotism familiar in discussions of much of the Global South. Police here aren’t much known for accepting bribes. Civil service jobs are allocated on the basis of exams, not family ties.
No, the corruption is a level up from that. “I mean in terms of money laundering,” Saviano would later explain. “There is no control of the flow of money.”
“Panama,” he said, “used to be the money-laundering capital. Now, it’s London.”
If enough of us speak up, we’ll be able to protect honesty in public life.
When he says London, he doesn’t exactly just mean the Square Mile and Isle of Dogs – though that is certainly the hub. He also means its connected network of British Overseas Territories, Crown Protectorates and quasi-colonies: places like Gibraltar, Bermuda, the Cayman Islands and the British Virgin Islands; Guernsey, Jersey and Mann.
Saviano first made the statement in answer to a question at the Hay on Wye book festival in May 2016, shortly before the Brexit referendum. What’s become increasingly clear since then is that this corruption in our financial system has infected our politics.
After all, if you want to keep using the UK and its territories to hide or clean up your money, you need to ensure that the British government – or, for that matter, the EU – doesn’t introduce pesky regulations to shine a light on your activities.