David Prosser: Britain's tawdry tax deal with Switzerland is a charter for tax evaders

 

David Prosser
Friday 26 August 2011 00:00
Comments

Outlook Just how pleased should we be that George Osborne has persuaded his Swiss counterparts to pay some compensation for the fact that billions of pounds of British tax dodgers' money is parked in secret bank accounts in their country? Well, about as pleased as we would be if someone had robbed a British bank, fled to Switzerland and then got away scot-free apart from the inconvenience of the local authorities handing back some of the proceeds.

One understands the pragmatism of this deal, which will see Switzerland pay the UK around £380m upfront, in lieu of unpaid tax by British account holders in the country, with the promise of more to come.

It recognises the difficulty of either tracking down those tax evaders who have stashed their money overseas or forcing the Swiss to give them up. Mr Osborne seems to have taken the view that something is better than nothing.

It is, however, a thoroughly unhappy compromise. For one thing, it is deeply unfair on law-abiding British taxpayers who hand over every penny of tax they owe and would not dream of trying to hide their wealth. That we are giving up on trying to identify those who break the law simply because we're getting something back from them via the Swiss – but certainly not everything they owe – is a betrayal of honest taxpayers and an incentive for more people to evade paying tax.

And for another thing, the deal is unfair on Britain's banks (an industry the Treasury is usually quick to defend). We have now accepted that Switzerland's financial sector has an unfair advantage over our deposit takers, because British customers are getting away with paying less tax there on their money than here. It's a reward for colluding with criminality.

Then there are the people who have already come forward under HM Revenue & Customs' previous offers of lenient treatment. It turns out the treatment would have been even more lenient if only they had not been so honest.

Finally, we should worry about the precedent we are setting with this deal. Christian Aid, for one, thinks the arrangement will make it far tougher for less wealthy and politically influential nations to chase their own tax-evading citizens – and thus the recoup the revenues they need even more desperately than we need ours.

Switzerland does not have an automatic right to banking secrecy that it is entitled to protect at all costs. This behaviour is not acceptable from a country that claims to be a good international citizen.

Nor do other countries accept that the UK's pragmatism is the only way to get results. The US authorities, for example, havechosen to take on Switzerland's banks one by one and they have won much greater levels of disclosure from them. We should do the same, rather than letting tax evaders get away with it.

Register for free to continue reading

Registration is a free and easy way to support our truly independent journalism

By registering, you will also enjoy limited access to Premium articles, exclusive newsletters, commenting, and virtual events with our leading journalists

Please enter a valid email
Please enter a valid email
Must be at least 6 characters, include an upper and lower case character and a number
Must be at least 6 characters, include an upper and lower case character and a number
Must be at least 6 characters, include an upper and lower case character and a number
Please enter your first name
Special characters aren’t allowed
Please enter a name between 1 and 40 characters
Please enter your last name
Special characters aren’t allowed
Please enter a name between 1 and 40 characters
You must be over 18 years old to register
You must be over 18 years old to register
Opt-out-policy
You can opt-out at any time by signing in to your account to manage your preferences. Each email has a link to unsubscribe.

Already have an account? sign in

By clicking ‘Register’ you confirm that your data has been entered correctly and you have read and agree to our Terms of use, Cookie policy and Privacy notice.

This site is protected by reCAPTCHA and the Google Privacy policy and Terms of service apply.

Join our new commenting forum

Join thought-provoking conversations, follow other Independent readers and see their replies

Comments

Thank you for registering

Please refresh the page or navigate to another page on the site to be automatically logged in