George Turner ■ The real losers of the UK becoming a tax haven


For months the public and governments around the world have been totally mystified at the lack of any plan coming from the UK government on how it intends to extract itself from the European Union following the Brexit referendum in June 2016.

On Sunday the British Chancellor of the Exchequer revealed the hand of the May government. As seems to have become the tradition, he did so in a European newspaper. It appears that the UK is now openly threatening to turn itself into the world’s largest tax haven if the EU does not yield to its demands for free access to the European market.


Of course this is not the first such statement in this area, and the Tax Justice Network has warned about the tax haven tendencies of the UK for some time. Over the last few years the UK has adopted several policies which have increased the attractiveness of the UK as a tax haven for foreign profits. These include slashing corporation tax rate to 17%, slashing capital gains tax, allowing rich people to buy UK citizenship, offering non-dom status to rich people, and changing the law to allow UK corporations to hoard their foreign profits in tax havens.

Shooting ourselves in the face

The UK government has generally justified its policy of tax cuts by the ideology of ‘competitiveness’. The idea that cutting taxes stimulates economic activity, leading to greater tax receipts.

The ideology is demonstrably wrong. On the UK government’s own generous figures the estimated increase in tax collection generated by economic growth stimulated by tax cuts will mean that the Treasury will only recoup around half the tax losses it has incurred through corporate tax cuts over the next 20 years.

The policy has also failed in other countries too. Most prominently in Kansas, where a programme of tax cuts was pioneered by the father of tax competitiveness, Art Laffer. The subsequent collapse in government revenue almost bankrupted the state.

Frequently cited positive examples of how tax cuts can stimulate economic growth, like Ireland’s Celtic Tiger, are largely mythical. Ireland had a policy of low taxation for many years before its growth story started. The explosion in the Ireland’s economy largely coincides with the country’s entry into the European Single Market, which in itself should act as a warning to the UK.

The UK currently occupies a particularly vulnerable economic position to the kind of policies being threatened by the Chancellor. The UK as a whole buys more from the rest of the world than it sells, and the UK government currently needs to borrow money to pay its bills. Slashing government revenue further and increasing the costs of imports is likely to hurt the UK more than it will hurt anyone else.

The UK’s negotiating partners in the EU recognise this too. The German Conservative member of parliament Norbert Röttgen commented that the threats of tariffs and tax cuts were tantamount to  “self-harm and an expression of British helplessness”.

Abandoning the welfare state

But these uncomfortable truths are unlikely to persuade the UK government to change course. That is because, remarkably, the latest comments of the UK Chancellor of the Exchequer appear to accept what the TJN has been saying for years. Namely that it is impossible for a tax haven to generate enough tax revenue to run a modern welfare state.

In his remarks to a German newspaper, Mr Hammond puts forward the idea that the UK may depart from ‘mainstream european economic and social thinking’ if it follows though in its plan to become a tax haven. The inference is clear, the UK’s pursuit of tax competitiveness, could lead to the abandonment of the welfare state. At threat is universal free healthcare, education, pensions, social insurance and all the other things that many people in the UK value, and are a core part of ‘mainstream European economic and social thinking’.

How many voters thought that that was what they were signing up to as they cast their ballot to leave the European Union?

TJN has written extensively about the importance of corporation tax in our publication, ten reasons to defend the corporate income tax

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Comments • 1

  • January 16, 2017 - 4:04 pm

    Is the UK unique in seeking tax haven-hood? Any country can do it if it wants. To replace taxes with revenues on the natural resources was first proposed some time ago by Henry George in 1879. and this can make every country self-supporting without having to burden its citizens or visitors with an tax penalty for good work.

    I realize that by “tax haven” the idea is different to this and the “threat” is actually a means whereby the produced goods will no longer have to be limited by export/inport controls. Workers in the industrial companies will still be expected to pay income tax, whatever their nationality, but the big-boys will be able to trade more easily. This is not really a threat but actually a relaxation of trading limitations and it should be introduced everywhere. Today the “free-ports” (like Singapore and Morocco and some parts of the West Indies) where these limitations are eliminated, are generally very successful. We should all do it anyway, with Brexit leading the way!

    The objections are that a country which is unable to compete will spend all its money abroad. Today this has no meaning. As the country prints or otherwise adds more money to its population to replace that passed abroad, it will not loose out. USA has done this with China where huge sums of Dollars are stored but of no practical use there. The Chinese could deflate the Dollar by spending them but if they did that they would not have a need to employ their millions of workers. Money is no longer the criterion for reducing trade.

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