Saturday 9 April 2016

Panama Papers: no surprise there, then.

I've read the revelations about tax havens in the Panama Papers  with a sensee of deja vu rather than shock or horror.  That's because back in 2012  I attended a talk  given by John Christensen, Director of the Tax Justice Network, which, he said, was ten years old a that time (and I think is partly meant to be an antidote to the  so-called Taxpayers' Alliance.)

Christensen argued that some time in 1956 "the authorities" (I think the Bank of England) took the deliberate decision that, since the days of Empire were over, Britain should expand into tax havens in order to keep us, or at least those at the top of the tree,  in the manner to which we'd become accustomed.  Thus Jersey, Guernsey, Bermuda, the British Virgin Islands etc are all satellites of the City of London.  Justification for this can be found in a book called " Treasure Islands" by Nicholas Shaxson,  published, in 2010, which tells us all we need to know, and more.

Christensen also argued that the City of London has long been a law unto itself, and that British politicians are in thrall to it. This is nothing new.  Since 1571 an official called The Remembrancer has sat and still sits in the Commons near the Speaker to ensure that the City's interests are taken into account when laws are made.

The City is in many ways, and has been for centuries,  a state within a state, with its own Lord Mayor (hardly democratically elected,) and police force.

What the publicity around the publication of the Panama Papers highlights for us  is not so much the existence of tax havens and their use by persons of varying degrees of wickedness, but that Britain is a major player in the schemes. Their present topicality exposes the hypocrisy of David Cameron, not so much  because he has  benefited from a tax free fund of £30 000 - given a person of his wealth and background that is pretty small beer - but by his pretence in trying in public to curb their activities whilst at the same time writing to the EU to try and prevent it doing that  very thing, as this  letter, written in 2013, shows.

Britain is, officially, up to its neck in facilitating  tax evasion and avoidance, and we ought to be ashamed of ourselves.

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