The Labour Party has reacted angrily after Stefano Pessina, the multibillionaire boss of Boots who lives in Monaco, warned that a government under Ed Miliband would be a “catastrophe” for Britain.
The 73-year-old Italian, who is worth an estimated £7.5bn, said in an interview with The Sunday Telegraph that Mr Miliband’s plan for power is “not helpful for business, not helpful for the country and in the end it probably won’t be helpful for them”.
Apart from living in a tax haven, Mr Pessina is best known for moving his retail group’s headquarters from its historic base in Nottingham to the low-tax region of Zug in Switzerland in 2008, a year after buying Boots with backing from venture capitalists. Critics of the move claim the relocation has enabled it to avoid £1.2bn of taxes in the past six years.
Chuka Umunna, the shadow Business Secretary, said: “The British people and British businesses will draw their own conclusions when those who don’t live here, don’t pay tax in this country and lead firms that reportedly avoid making a fair contribution in what they pay purport to know what is in Britain’s best interest.”
Mr Umunna’s objections were shared by others. Steve Turner, assistant general secretary of the Unite union, called the comments a “disgrace”, while Ruth Tanner of the War on Want anti-poverty group said: “If Stefano Pessina is so concerned about the British taxpayer then the best thing he could do is ensure Boots pays its fair share.”
Tax specialist and anti-poverty campaigner Richard Murphy said: “Could this be motivated by fears that Labour might clamp down on the abusive tax arrangements of large companies?”
Mr Pessina’s suggestion that Labour is anti-business comes as the party campaigns on issues such as executive pay and tax avoidance, and has announced plans to restore the 50p top rate of income tax.
A spokesman for Boots said: “The comments were part of a much larger conversation and have been taken out of context.” He added: “Overall, the total amount of tax paid in the UK, including business rates, national insurance and corporation tax, was around £550m in 2013-14.”