British Chancellor George Osborne told BBCNews today he is hopeful of a “win-win” agreement between the UK and the rest of the European Union in talks over its future membership. Mr Osborne said there was “goodwill and a willingness to engage” with British arguments. In asserting such things, he is as usual lying to the British People – as he did about his tax strategy prior to the Election. There is no such willingness at all, because the Chancellor is trying to have his cake and eat it with the EU when it comes to taxing multinational evaders. The Slog deconstructs the two faces of George Osborne.
What follows is an account of what happens when a government is working for a few privileged people, rather than The People. Here’s the official HMRC version on business taxation – as dictated by George Osborne before this year’s UK General Election:
‘…this government has been relentless in its crackdown on tax evasion and avoidance….[but]…Most individuals and businesses in the UK pay the tax that is due and do not try to bend or break the rules to avoid it….’
The truth is somewhat at odds with the Chancellor’s assertion. While most UK-derived and owned businesses pay all their taxes, multinational corporations don’t: an HMRC report from two years ago calculated that at least 1 in every £8 is lost to tax evasion by global combines who hire legions of accountants to weasel and wriggle in the reduction of client tax costs.
But that HMRC estimate of 13% being lost (nearly £5bn per annum) doesn’t include the far greater dent in tax takes caused by multinationals shifting their money around in a cross between musical chairs and a Ponzi scheme. Experts reckon this loss may be around £12bn a year. The main culprits here – the likes of Google, Amazon and Starbucks – do not suffer crackdowns…or anything remotely like that. Amazon for instance, pays about one 0.1% of the tax on UK-generated that it should do. The rest is avoided by having a head office in Luxemburg – where are old friend Jean-Claude Juncker rules the roost.
Nondoms working in City banking firms are no different: they work here, get the advantages of our transport, education and health systems, but somehow feel they have the right not to contribute to the society in which they earn vast sums. When challenged about this, Ministers spout claptrap about “being seen to be open for business”. Worse still, to keep on the right side of the City goosesteppers laying golden eggs (since 2008 they’ve cost us £1.1bn in rescues and liabilities) undervalued social weal public assets like Royal Mail get sold off at undervalued prices.
Specific cases of cronyism between political Parties and tax avoiders come to light disturbingly often. The oil trading company Vitol has kept its tax rate very low in the UK (where the trade largely occurs) by having a head office in Geneva. Although it’s another case of using British resources but shying away from the bill, what raised many eyebrows was the fact that its CEO Ian Taylor is a major donor to the Conservative Party.
This hardly counts as ‘relentless in its crackdown on tax avoidance and evasion’, and since being returned to power in its own right, the difference between what the Conservative Party says and does on taxing the Big Boys has become even more marked. Just five weeks after the election, Britain rejected Brussels proposals for a coordinated plan (CCCTB) to combat mass tax evasion by multinationals based in the EU.
In an extraordinary statement, financial secretary to the Treasury David Gauke told the media that he saw ‘no relevance to the UK’ in the plans, and that under no circumstances would the UK adopt the measures proposed.
This is where the Tories’ tax hypocrisy must surely raise questions in the Opposition, such as it is, in Britain. Because what’s clear is that under Cameron and Osborne, the country is being positioned as a sort of tax haven among globalist business, in order to attract more multinational offices, factories and distribution centres.
Now one can hardly crack down and be a sort of Luxembourg at one and the same time. But on addressing representatives from the European Parliament, the Minister specifically said (quote) “it is very important to have competition between tax regimes”. Further, Gauke told the FT: “The CCCTB has been around a very long time. It is a proposal still looking for a justification.”
What’s now becoming clear is that the Chancellor has been selling a pro-citizen, crackdown-on-corporate-evaders tax approach to the British electorate, while pursuing a pro-business low tax régime undercutting the EU to the multinational corporate sector. He has, for example, laid great stress on slashing the headline corporate tax rate from 28% to 20%. But it is not just on the rate that Osborne has competed hard: new favourable tax regimes for multinationals with offshore financing subsidiaries as well as new tax breaks for patent-owning companies have also been central to an aggressive tax competition policy.
This is being reflected in multinational HQ trends in relation to Europe: Aon, Fiat Industrial, and Starbucks Europe now have headquarters here, and Monsanto has announced that, should it succeed in taking over Swiss firm Syngenta, it will also move its headquarters to the UK.
But as we have seen, having attracted the more ‘fly’ corporations to Britain (and they don’t come more fly than Starbucks and Monsanto) the HMRC is still missing out on a huge proportion of the tax due to it from such companies. It has, in reality, given up on catching the real tax dodgers.
Instead, the Conservative Party has chosen to lay all blame for Britain’s parlous fiscal state at the door of those on low wages with poor access to affordable support.
This essentially corporacratic government has chosen to cater for the 3%, not the rest of us. It has chosen to pauperise the squeezed, in preference to catching the globalist evader. It has chosen to blame the poor, not tax the rich.
And yet, it prefers to stay in an increasingly controlling European Union, but not join in with that Union’s goals….rather, to be devious with it, and to confuse it by being somehow in yet out. Those of us who just want out think this is a muddled policy, but as usual with the Conservatives it’s more a case of opportunism than clarity: the UK government wants privileged access to European markets, but not to have its tax and financial services leadership threatened.
Twas ever thus: those with double standards always want double helpings.