Tax haven ty­coons could pay Irma bill

Sunday Mirror - - FRONT PAGE -

You’d think the peo­ple of the Bri­tish Vir­gin Islands had suf­fered enough af­ter Hur­ri­cane Irma. Af­ter see­ing their homes de­stroyed, they then had to en­dure a visit from Boris John­son.

It’s vi­tal we help the re­lief ef­fort and, typ­i­cally, our govern­ment’s re­sponse has been slow. But while I’ve no is­sue with giv­ing the BVI govern­ment £32mil­lion in aid, I have huge reser­va­tions giv­ing them a blank cheque.

Why? Be­cause the BVI has for many years helped cheat the Bri­tish tax­payer out of bil­lions of pounds.

Com­pa­nies reg­is­tered in the Bri­tish Vir­gin Islands don’t pay cap­i­tal gains tax, VAT, in­her­i­tance tax or cor­po­ra­tion tax.

Hun­dreds of thou­sands of peo­ple and firms, many of them Bri­tish, use the BVI to avoid pay­ing tax in the UK. Bri­tain en­cour­aged places like the Bri­tish Vir­gin Islands to de­velop as off­shore tax havens so they could get out of giv­ing them mil­lions in in­ter­na­tional aid.

But these havens were so ag­gres­sive in help­ing peo­ple avoid tax, Bri­tain is los­ing out on bil­lions.

A stag­ger­ing 45 per cent of the world’s off­shore com­pa­nies have been formed in the Bri­tish Vir­gin Islands. And of the 100,000 UK prop­er­ties owned by com­pa­nies over­seas, nearly 23,000 are reg­is­tered in the BVI.

In fact many pub­lic con­tracts for build­ing schools and hos­pi­tals in the UK un­der the Pri­vate Fi­nance Ini­tia­tive have been re­lo­cated to tax havens so the con­trac­tors avoid tax on prof­its funded by you, the tax­payer.

The Tax Jus­tice cam­paign es­ti­mates that the Bri­tish Vir­gin Islands pre­vents £27bil­lion be­ing col­lected in taxes around the world every year.

We’re ef­fec­tively sub­si­dis­ing each of the islands’ 30,000 in­hab­i­tants to the tune of £900,000 a year. That avoided tax could have been spent here in Bri­tain to build schools and hos­pi­tals. Or bet­ter trans­port links.

But Tories are now lob­by­ing to change rules set by the Or­gan­i­sa­tion for Eco­nomic Co-op­er­a­tion and Devel­op­ment and en­shrined in UK law that pre­vent money from our in­ter­na­tional aid bud­get go­ing to the BVI. They’re wrong.

STRINGS

By all means let’s give Bri­tish Vir­gin Islands hu­man­i­tar­ian aid. But UK aid for re­con­struc­tion must have strings at­tached.

Firstly, we need the BVI to be more trans­par­ent about ac­counts of com­pa­nies and in­di­vid­u­als reg­is­tered there. Last year, the BVI re­fused UK calls to pub­lish de­tails of who owns off­shore firms reg­is­tered there. Be­fore we give them any more money that must change. In Labour’s last man­i­festo, it made 17 pledges to clamp down on off­shore tax cheats. They in­cluded a tax on havens, forc­ing mil­lion­aires to pub­lish tax re­turns and strict min­i­mum stan­dards for crown de­pen­den­cies and over­seas ter­ri­to­ries like BVI.

Pub­lish­ing a pub­lic reg­is­ter of own­ers reg­is­tered will show us ex­actly who is cheat­ing the Bri­tish tax­pay­ers. As the leaked Panama Pa­pers showed, even David Cameron’s fam­ily was ben­e­fit­ing from off­shore trusts.

Hav­ing a pub­lic reg­is­ter will then al­low us to get these peo­ple to chip in to re­build the BVI.

When Labour came to power in 1997 we in­tro­duced a wind­fall levy on the prof­its of pri­va­tised util­i­ties which raised £5bil­lion to fund our New Deal pro­gramme to get longterm un­em­ployed peo­ple into work.

So why don’t we have an off­shore levy on Bri­tish mil­lion­aires and firms who avoid tax in Bri­tain?

Some of that could go to help re­build the BVI. The rest could go to fund projects in the UK.

Tax-dodg­ing mil­lion­aires have be­come very rich thanks to places like the BVI. Now it’s time for them to give back, and pay back.

I’ve never been to a film pre­miere. But there are two I would have loved to have gone to. The first was Al Gore’s An In­con­ve­nient Se­quel, the fol­low-up to his cli­mate change film. The sec­ond is Na­ture of The Beast, about my old flat­mate Dennis Skin­ner (right). He’s an­other cham­pion of the in­con­ve­nient truth, in and out of Par­lia­ment, over his 47 years as an MP. I’m look­ing for­ward to see­ing the film at the Labour Con­fer­ence, where no doubt Dennis will get a red car­pet.

WIPEOUT Irma blitz

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