Boris Johnson to confront Amazon boss Jeff Bezos over tax bill

PM to meet world’s richest man on fringe of UN general assembly in New York

Andrew Woodcock
Political Editor
Sunday 19 September 2021 22:31
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Boris Johnson is to confront Amazon’s billionaire boss Jeff Bezos over his company’s record of paying tiny amounts of tax in the UK.

Aides said the prime minister will raise the issue of the UK’s planned “Amazon tax” on online retail when he meets Bezos – the world’s richest man, with a personal fortune of more than £130bn – on the fringe of the United Nations general assembly in New York on Monday.

Amazon has sparked fury over many years for its minimal tax payments in the UK despite making billions in sales. The company paid £492m in direct taxation in 2020 as its sales rose 50 per cent to £20.63bn.

Chancellor Rishi Sunak is planning a 2 per cent tax on digital sales amid concerns that big tech firms are re-routing their profits through low tax jurisdictions.

The levy, fiercely resisted by tech giants, is intended to redress the balance with bricks-and-mortar businesses which have seen profits savaged as consumers flood away from the high street to virtual shopping.

Mr Sunak has said that the Covid pandemic made the online retailers even “more powerful and more profitable”.

Asked whether Mr Johnson will tell Mr Bezos to pay more tax when the pair meet in New York, the PM’s official spokesperson said: “You can expect the prime minister to raise this important issue.

“We have been an advocate for an international solution to the tax challenges posed by digitalisation of the economy.

“We will very much be looking to raise that.”

The spokesperson said Mr Johnson will also tackle Bezos over the impact of Amazon’s fast-growing business empire on the environment, just weeks ahead of November’s vital Cop26 climate change summit in Glasgow.

“We fully recognise that while it is one of the largest companies in the world, Amazon also has a role in addressing issues of climate change and biodiversity,” said the spokesperson.

Amazon’s direct tax bill for 2020 was up by more than two-thirds compared with the £293m it paid in the previous year.

The firm, which employs 55,000 people in the UK, said the taxes included business rates, stamp duty, corporation tax and other contributions.

Recent analysis by union Unite found that the ecommerce giant’s accounts and public statements showed £13.7bn in sales in the UK in 2019, of which only £5.5bn worth were reported in filings for UK-based companies, with others routed via low-tax Luxembourg.

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