What the commentators said
It’s the humbug I can’t abide, said Philip Johnston in The Daily Telegraph. Why on earth should the Queen apologise, as Labour now insists, for the Duchy of Lancaster investing some of her money in the Cayman Islands? It’s a perfectly legal manoeuvre, as her accusers well know. The Labour Party itself rents its London HQ from a tax-exempt property trust based in Jersey. The Guardian, now on its high horse about this, used a tax-exempt shell company in the Caymans to purchase the media group Emap. This “scandal” simply reveals what we already knew: that the rich “avail themselves of legitimate tax vehicles offshore to limit their liabilities”. That misses the point, said Will Gore in The Independent. The issue “is about perception, not legal technicalities”. It doesn’t matter if those of us with a pension turn out to have a bit of that money in offshore funds. What the British public hates is the idea that the super-rich, advised by clever lawyers and tax experts, are gaining a further advantage over the rest of us. The Queen, through no fault of her own, has become an emblem of the inequality that entails.
Legal or not, the tax haven system is a form of theft, said Gabriel Zucman in The Guardian. It enables multinationals to shift their yearly profits from the places where they do most of their business to places with bargain tax rates: for the UK alone, the bill for such accountancy manipulation adds up to s12.7bn a year. It also enables ultra-wealthy people to hide their money in faceless shell corporations and avoid tax altogether: the equivalent of 10% of global GDP is held offshore by rich individuals. Yet fixing the system may not be that hard, said Ben Chu in The Independent. Law firms, banks and accountants have created a “convenient smokescreen” of complexity for their clients; much could be done simply by insisting on the automatic exchange of tax information between different states. We just need to end the secrecy over how much tax an individual is paying and in which country: “everything flows from that”.