Stony-hearted taxman gives Jagger and Co no satisfaction

The Government, despite its campaign to woo the music industry, yesterday went on the offensive against Britain's best-known band, the Rolling Stones.

As the group confirmed that they were cancelling their concerts in Britain this summer for tax reasons, Treasury sources joined fans in reacting with disbelief at the decision.

But in fact, Mick Jagger, who was being ridiculed with gusto yesterday by government MPs, privately wanted the shows to go on. In heated backstage arguments he was defeated by two of his fellow band members - Charlie Watts and Ronnie Wood - who stood to lose millions of pounds in retrospective tax claims. Jagger is rich enough to stomach the tax loss, and Keith Richards is now an American citizen and does not even pay tax in Britain.

The four fiftysomething Stones devoted their monthly group meeting to matters fiscal exactly one month ago, in the middle of their world tour.

A technician on the tour had complained to Jagger that his accountant had told him he would face a retrospective tax demand following Labour's last budget.

The roadie was aggrieved because he and his 200 backstage colleagues - from roadies to hairdressers to drivers - had all been assured by the group that being on the road for a year would exempt them from paying British tax. It was to have been a tax-free year of hard work, maybe; parties, definitely; music and travel. Now, Gordon Brown's tax changes meant that appearing in Britain in 1998 would make them all liable for a retrospective tax bill on their earnings in America and Europe.

The Stones were sympathetic. They felt guilty that they had unintentionally misled their crew. And they began to worry about their own fortunes. Their own accountants had already mentioned the tax law changes to them; but the plight of their 200 staff now brought it home.

They could claim, their financial advisers told them, that the British leg of the tour would now lose pounds 12m instead of making a profit. Keith Richards knew that his own wallet would not be affected. Jagger could bear the loss. But Charlie Watts and Ronnie Wood were furious. They urged postponing the British concerts until the following tax year.

Jagger, anticipating the fans' reaction and the political fallout, argued vigorously against it, but was outvoted. He swallowed hard, knowing he would inevitably be the band's spokesman when the news broke and he would face the obloquy.

The Stones' management informed the venues and promoters and briefed one newspaper on the unfairness to the tour crew of a retrospective tax bill. The press jumped on a story showing yet another failure of Tony Blair's Cool Britannia wooing of the music industry. OK, the Stones have not been cool for a few years, but they are still rock'n'roll, and their attack on the Treasury is embarrassing.

The Government was quick to hit back. Sources said that they were not prepared to be "lectured on tax by tax exiles" and warned that they were ready to draw unflattering comparisons between the Stones and other groups who were happy to play in the UK this summer.

The Tories, meanwhile, decided to use Jagger and co to highlight supposed iniquities of Labour's fiscal policy. Treasury spokesman David Heathcoat- Amory claimed: "It shows how shortsighted the government policy is, as it will hit British fans and prevent them from seeing a British band performing in their own country."

The Tories' culture spokesman, Richard Spring, said successful artists who returned to Britain under the Conservatives would now consider not playing here.

But not everyone saw it as politic to be a Stones fan. The Liberal Democrat MP Norman Baker - improbably enough a lead singer in a rock band himself - turned on them. The Lewes MP - who fronts an occasional rock band called the Reform Club - said: "I think it's outrageous that they're setting so much store on their tax returns. It shows they are clapped-out capitalists."

Who are these bands that the Treasury might use as examples to shame the Stones? The main one is likely to be the Spice Girls, young enough to be the Stones' daughters. Also on a world tour, they have already played British gigs and will be playing again at Wembley Stadium in September.

Yesterday, tax experts seemed to think the Stones had a point. John Whiting, of the accountants Price Waterhouse, said it was the tour crew who were being hit. He added: "This tax break has been cancelled retrospectively, and that is unreasonable."

Gary Jackson, of the celebrity accountants Arram Berlyn Gardner, added: "There will not be a huge exodus, but any major star organising a worldwide tour may well look to become non-resident in the UK."

Until the Budget on 17 March, Britons who lived and worked abroad for more than a year were exempt from British taxes on their earnings, as long as they did not spend more than 62 days in this country.

Business Outlook, page 19

Start your day with The Independent, sign up for daily news emails
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
ebooks
ebooksAn introduction to the ground rules of British democracy
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
SPONSORED FEATURES
Independent Dating
and  

By clicking 'Search' you
are agreeing to our
Terms of Use.

iJobs Job Widget
iJobs General

Recruitment Genius: Web Developer

£25000 - £30000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: This digital and print design a...

Recruitment Genius: Engineering Project Manager - Vehicle Design and Build

£30000 - £40000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: An Engineering Project Manager ...

Recruitment Genius: Network Support Engineer

£30000 - £40000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: This leading manufacturer and i...

Recruitment Genius: Document Controller

Negotiable: Recruitment Genius: A Document Controller is required to join a le...

Day In a Page

Blairites be warned, this could be the moment Labour turns into Syriza

Andrew Grice: Inside Westminster

Blairites be warned, this could be the moment Labour turns into Syriza
Jon Stewart: The voice of Democrats who felt Obama had failed to deliver on his 'Yes We Can' slogan, and the voter he tried hardest to keep onside

The voter Obama tried hardest to keep onside

Outgoing The Daily Show host, Jon Stewart, became the voice of Democrats who felt the President had failed to deliver on his ‘Yes We Can’ slogan. Tim Walker charts the ups and downs of their 10-year relationship on screen
A Very British Coup, part two: New novel in pipeline as Jeremy Corbyn's rise inspires sequel

A Very British Coup, part two

New novel in pipeline as Jeremy Corbyn's rise inspires sequel
Philae lander data show comets could have brought 'building blocks of life' to Earth

Philae lander data show comets could have brought 'building blocks of life' to Earth

Icy dust layer holds organic compounds similar to those found in living organisms
What turns someone into a conspiracy theorist? Study to look at why some are more 'receptive' to such theories

What turns someone into a conspiracy theorist?

Study to look at why some are more 'receptive' to such theories
Chinese web dissenters using coded language to dodge censorship filters and vent frustration at government

Are you a 50-center?

Decoding the Chinese web dissenters
The Beatles film Help, released 50 years ago, signalled the birth of the 'metrosexual' man

Help signalled birth of 'metrosexual' man

The Beatles' moptop haircuts and dandified fashion introduced a new style for the modern Englishman, says Martin King
Hollywood's new diet: Has LA stolen New York's crown as the ultimate foodie trend-setter?

Hollywood's new diet trends

Has LA stolen New York's crown as the ultimate foodie trend-setter?
6 best recipe files

6 best recipe files

Get organised like a Bake Off champion and put all your show-stopping recipes in one place
Ashes 2015: Steven Finn goes from being unselectable to simply unplayable

Finn goes from being unselectable to simply unplayable

Middlesex bowler claims Ashes hat-trick of Clarke, Voges and Marsh
Mullah Omar, creator of the Taliban, is dead... for the fourth time

Mullah Omar, creator of the Taliban, is dead... again

I was once told that intelligence services declare their enemies dead to provoke them into popping up their heads and revealing their location, says Robert Fisk
Margaret Attwood on climate change: 'Time is running out for our fragile, Goldilocks planet'

Margaret Atwood on climate change

The author looks back on what she wrote about oil in 2009, and reflects on how the conversation has changed in a mere six years
New Dr Seuss manuscript discovered: What Pet Should I Get? goes on sale this week

New Dr Seuss manuscript discovered

What Pet Should I Get? goes on sale this week
Oculus Rift and the lonely cartoon hedgehog who could become the first ever virtual reality movie star

The cartoon hedgehog leading the way into a whole new reality

Virtual reality is the 'next chapter' of entertainment. Tim Walker gives it a try
Ants have unique ability to switch between individual and collective action, says study

Secrets of ants' teamwork revealed

The insects have an almost unique ability to switch between individual and collective action