London, England (The Independent)
The world’s most powerful leaders must mount a concerted effort to prevent multinational companies such as Starbucks and Amazon legally avoid large corporation tax bills, David Cameron will urge in his role as president of the G8.
The Prime Minister vowed to make “damn sure” that multinational firms paid their fair share of tax on their UK operations.
He is to use Britain’s presidency of the G8 group of the most industrialised nations, which began this week, to discuss ways of stopping global companies moving their money through different jurisdictions to minimise tax payments.
HM Revenue & Customs has been accused of being “too lenient” towards big businesses that indulge in aggressive tax planning. The credibility of HMRC and the tax system rests on it becoming “more aggressive and assertive in confronting corporate tax avoidance”, the chair of the Public Accounts Committee, Margaret Hodge, said last month.
Mr Cameron says a crackdown can only be effective if countries around the world act collectively to tackle abuses. Britain, along with Germany and France, has asked the Organisation for Economic Cooperation and Development to investigate whether tax loopholes can be closed.
He signalled his determination to confront global corporations during an appearance in Lancashire before business leaders and entrepreneurs. Asked why “Starbucks and Amazon” were allowed to avoid paying large corporation tax bills despite their extensive British presence, he replied: “We have got to crack that, you’re absolutely right.
“This is a really important issue. I think we’re offering actually a fair deal to businesses. We’re saying, ‘Look, we’re going to have a really low rate of corporation tax’ but I want to make damn sure that those companies pay it.
“It’s simply not fair and not right what some of them are doing by saying, ‘I’ve got lots of sales here in the UK but I’m going to pay a sort of royalty fee to another company that I own in another country that has some special tax dispensation’.”
Mr Cameron said he wanted to start a debate in the UK about “really aggressive tax avoidance”.
He said: “We do need a debate in this country, not only what is against the law – that’s tax evasion, that is against the law, that’s illegal and if you do that the Inland Revenue will come down on you like a ton of bricks – but what is unacceptable in terms of really aggressive tax avoidance.
Mr Cameron added: “We’ve got a low top rate of income tax now; we’ve got a low rate of corporation tax now; we are a fair tax country. But I think it’s fair then to say to business, you know, we’re playing fair by you; you’ve got to play fair by us.
Mr Cameron said he had put the issue “right at the top of the agenda” for the G8 this year as well as tackling it nationally.
“It’s simply not fair and not right what some of them are doing by saying, I’ve got lots of sales here in the UK but I’m going to pay a sort of royalty fee to another company that I own in another country that has some special tax dispensation.”
The Commons Public Accounts Committee last month condemned the “unconvincing, and, in some cases, evasive” evidence it had received from representatives of Starbucks, Google and Amazon who were called in front of it to defend their tax affairs.
Tax avoidance: What can be done?
* International collaboration, to address changes to global business practices such as e-commerce, where national tax authorities have failed to respond quickly enough.
* Treaties with overseas countries to ensure flow of tax from accounts held by British citizens. Such a treaty with Switzerland will, the Treasury claims, see £5bn enter its coffers over the next six years.
* Better “information sharing” with Britain’s Crown Dependencies to give HMRC more detailed knowledge of accounts in Jersey, Guernsey and the Isle of Man.
* The Treasury has set up an “affluence unit” to closely investigate the tax affairs of those with property or assets worth over £1m.
* Aggressive pursuit of corporate tax avoiders rather than HMRC striking voluntary “sweetheart deals” .
By Nigel Morris, The Independent, January 5, 2013
Europe (Financial Times)
Scotland’s hopes of automatically obtaining EU membership if Scots vote for independence from Britain in 2014 could be dashed by legal problems and political opposition from other member states.
EU bureaucrats have declined to spell out the legal position following Scottish secession from the UK, arguing that there is no precedent. But behind closed doors there is near unanimity that any country born out of the break-up of a member state would have to apply for membership.
“If you have secession from an existing member state the original member of the EU would automatically stay, although a number of issues such as voting rights would have to be reassessed, but the new country would have to apply for membership,” says an EU official.
This contradicts what Alex Salmond, Scotland’s first minister, has been arguing for months. The leader of the Scottish National party claims Scotland would automatically become a member of the EU if it became independent.
That legal position gives a veto to EU capitals worried about setting a precedent for their own secessionist movements, most obviously Spain.
Madrid, which is trying to see off an independence push by the region of Catalonia, has made clear its lack of enthusiasm for Scottish secession.
José Manuel García-Margallo, the Spanish foreign minister, said last week independent Scotland would have to “get to the back of the queue” for EU membership.
“States that declare independence have to request admission to international organisations they want to join. That is common practice in international law,” a spokesman for the Spanish foreign ministry said.
Alistair Sutton, an EU lawyer and visiting professor of European Law at the University of Edinburgh, says that Scotland would need to obtain international recognition from the EU before becoming a member.
“It can’t take its international existence for granted . . . it would have to apply for membership,” he says. “You can’t expect them to walk into EU meetings the day after it gains independence. The commission, the council and the European parliament will not accept that.”
The row over whether Scotland could remain a part of the EU after independence blew up last week after Nicola Sturgeon, the party’s deputy leader, admitted the government had not taken legal advice to justify its claim that it would automatically retain membership.
Alistair Darling, the former chancellor and head of the group fighting independence, described the incident as a “turning point” in the campaign. Speaking to the Financial Times, Mr Darling said: “Alex Salmond has been caught out saying something he knew was not true, and on one of the most critical issues of the independence debate.”
Mr Salmond could still pull it off, according to some EU officials, if Scotland agreed to a passive membership, which would give it access to the bloc’s single market but not a seat at the EU Council, the club of heads of state that meet regularly to decide on key union matters. Scotland could then apply for a full membership, which could take several years, but in the meantime it would not be forced to leave the union.
Madrid has shown it is ready to stand against the vast majority of EU member states with its refusal to recognise Kosovo as a breakaway state.
William Hague, UK foreign minister, has kept Madrid abreast of developments in Scotland and he provided Mr Garcia-Margallo with an official UK government analysis of the EU legal position if the country voted for independence.
By James Fontanella-Khan in Brussels, Kiran Stacey in Edinburgh and Tobias Buck in Madrid
The Financial Times, October 28, 2012
England, United Kingdom
Boris Johnson is being lined up to return to a safe Commons seat in 2015 and mount an immediate leadership challenge if David Cameron fails to secure an overall majority.
Allies of the London Mayor, whose popularity has been boosted by the success of the Olympics and Paralympics, played down the prospect of him making a Westminster comeback before that.
Their comments came despite swirling rumours of plots against the Prime Minister and to install Mr Johnson.
One Conservative MP, Colonel Bob Stewart, said two colleagues approached him before the summer break to consider a ‘stalking horse’ challenge for the party leadership that might open the door for Mr Johnson to take over. But Colonel Stewart told them to ‘get lost’.
The Mayor infuriated Number Ten by going to war with Mr Cameron last week, criticising what he called a ‘fudgearama’ over increasing airport capacity.
But a spokesman for Mr Johnson dismissed as ‘fanciful’ a claim that multi- millionaire Tory rebel Zac Goldsmith, who has threatened to quit Parliament if the Government goes ahead with a third runway at Heathrow, offered his south-west London seat to the Mayor.
The two men were said to have discussed the prospect of a by-election in Mr Goldsmith’s Richmond constituency following last week’s Cabinet reshuffle, in which Mr Cameron sidelined ministers who are opposed to Heathrow expansion.
Mr Johnson did meet Mr Goldsmith and the by-election scheme is thought to have been ‘jokingly’ mentioned, but the Mayor is said to have dismissed it out of hand.
Mr Goldsmith wrote yesterday on Twitter: ‘I have never offered to resign! But I did promise before the election that I would, if the Government U-turns on Heathrow.’
But MPs who want to see Mr Johnson in Downing Street confirmed privately that advanced discussions had taken place on finding him a seat for the 2015 election.
Mr Goldsmith’s seat is not considered safe enough because it is a marginal. Two that have been discussed by Mr Johnson’s supporters are Mole Valley, where veteran MP Sir Paul Beresford might be persuaded to step down, and Henley, the Mayor’s old Commons seat.
Mr Johnson has always insisted he has no intention of trying to oust Mr Cameron and has pledged to see out his second term as Mayor.
But while he would be heavily criticised if he tried to combine the role of mayor and MP for an extended period, he is due to leave office in London in 2016.
That would mean the two jobs would only overlap for a year if he made a comeback at the next general election. One rebel MP said: ‘The aim is that Boris is in place at the next election. If Cameron loses the election badly, he’ll resign and Boris will stand, but if he misses a majority again and tries to stitch up another coalition with the Lib Dems then there will be blood on the walls. We won’t let him do it again.’
Another rebel Tory, Nadine Dorries, said: ‘We need to get Boris in and Cameron out to survive 2015.’
But Mr Johnson said he was ‘absolutely not’ planning a return to the Commons. ‘As I said in the election about a billion times, being Mayor is the best job in British politics and it’s what I want to do,’ he said.
By James Chapman, The Daily Mail, September 8, 2012
Scottish Labour is seen as “out of touch”, “incompetent” and “boring”, a YouGov poll has shown, exposing the mountain party leader Johann Lamont has to climb if she is to seize back power from the SNP at Holyrood.
Asked to pick out three words they felt best described the party, only 5 per cent chose “efficient” while just 8 per cent opted for “trustworthy”.
By contrast, 35 per cent of people said it was “out of touch”, 29 per cent “incompetent”, 26 per cent “boring” and 35 per cent “untrustworthy”.
Labour sources said last night that the poll – which asked for views only about their party – was notable for catching the “anti-politics” mood in the nation, and claimed that other parties would have also been viewed negatively had they been analysed.
But the Fabian Society, which commissioned the poll, said the findings showed Labour needed to come up with some fresh thinking if it was to eat into the SNP’s huge lead in voting preferences at Holyrood.
In a separate series of questions, the survey also confirmed that large numbers of voters who backed Labour at Westminster switched to the SNP because they believed the Nationalists had performed well at running the devolved government and had better policies.
By contrast, fewer than one in five people who switched their vote from Labour at Westminster to the SNP at Holyrood did so because they wanted an independent Scotland.
The findings come after a series of polls on voting intention for Holyrood has shown Alex Salmond’s SNP is still way out in front of Scottish Labour, following its landslide victory last year.
It illustrates that, while Labour has extended its lead over the SNP at Westminster elections and despite no momentum behind independence, the SNP remains dominant as the party of choice to run a devolved Scottish Government. A recent poll found that, on the constituency vote at Holyrood, the SNP is at 47 per cent, Labour is at 32 per cent, the Conservatives at 12 per cent and the Liberal Democrats at 6 per cent.
As The Scotsman reported yesterday, the Fabians’ poll found that support for independence is now at 30 per cent, down three points compared with the beginning of the year.
Daniel Johnson, co-ordinator of the Scottish Fabians, said: “All this is good news for Scottish Labour since the launch of the ‘Better Together’ campaign, but our polling also reveals the challenge for Labour is to engage the Scottish electorate with fresh thinking and ideas.”
He added: “In a week of bad news for the SNP, it is clear Labour has much to think about too. Scottish Labour clearly must work to build new ideas and approaches if it is to capitalise as the Yes campaign falters.”
An SNP spokesman said last night: “The poll is extremely bad news for Labour, and it also underlines the breadth and strength of support for the SNP government’s record, team and vision for Scotland.”
A Scottish Labour spokesman added: “We knew when we lost the Scottish Parliament elections in 2011 that people wanted us to change. That’s why in the past year, we’ve seen real change in our party that’s helped us get closer to people and communities across the country.”
By Eddie Barnes, Scotsman, August 2, 2012
Ed Miliband has branded David Cameron a "tainted prime minister" whose failure to stand up to the rich and powerful makes him unable to deliver the change which Britain needs.
Describing the Conservatives as "part of the problem", Mr Miliband said the UK's return to recession has shown Mr Cameron and his party to be tied to a set of outdated and ineffective economic, social and political orthodoxies which are "crumbling before our eyes".
As the prime minister prepares to attend the G20 summit in Mexico, Mr Miliband said the world needs new economic leadership to deliver a global plan for jobs and growth.
He seized on evidence from the Leveson Inquiry of Mr Cameron's close links with senior figures at News International, arguing that it shows him to be someone who stands up for "the wrong people".
In a speech to Labour's National Policy Forum in Birmingham, Mr Miliband said his party's task is to "rebuild Britain" so it works for everyone, and not just a powerful and privileged few.
Describing the next steps in Labour's policy review, Mr Miliband said it will focus on three themes: rebuilding the economy, rebuilding society and rebuilding politics.
He set out his "vision for our future economy", where companies would be regarded as a shared project between workers, management, shareholders and customers, with reduced pay inequality and an end to poverty wages.
Mr Miliband said he wants to create a more equal society, built on "care, compassion and real reciprocity, not just on money, market and exchange".
Labour must restore confidence in politics by "standing up for the many against the interests of the few, however powerful they are", he told his party. He added: "The scale of the crisis we face is enormous."
Conservative Party Deputy Chairman Michael Fallon said: "Ed Miliband was a central figure in Gordon Brown's old team that was known for briefing against a sitting Prime Minister, abusive behaviour and negative spin. Labour were just as close to the Murdochs and to try to score cheap points on this issue is rank hypocrisy."
By UK Press Association, June 16, 2012