JEREMY CORBYN called for a public inquiry into tax avoidance yesterday following the explosive Paradise Papers revelations.
The disclosure of 13.4 million secret documents ties major companies, entertainers and political figures to the secretive arrangements with billions of pounds believed to be squirrelled away in offshore tax avoidance schemes.
But the Labour leader said that apologies were not enough and tax-dodgers must recognise the harm their actions cause.
Speaking at the CBI annual conference he said: “Anyone that is putting money into tax havens in order to avoid taxation in Britain, and obviously investigations have to take place, should do two things.
“Not just apologise for it but also recognise what it does to our society.
“Because if the very wealthy person wants to avoid taxation in Britain and therefore put money into a tax haven somewhere, who loses?
“Schools, hospitals, housing, all those public services lose and the rest of the population have to pay to cover up the deficit created by that.”
Chancellor Philip Hammond failed to turn up for an urgent Commons question tabled by Labour on the Paradise Papers, with Labour’s John McDonnell branding his absence “unacceptable.”
The shadow chancellor said there would have to be a “critically overriding” reason for Mr Hammond’s no-show. And the Tax Justice Campaign said the Paradise Papers exposed Britain as a centre of tax avoidance with its network of offshore tax havens in crown dependencies and overseas territories.
Campaign director Tim Snell suggested that the government could end tax avoidance but had failed to make it a priority.
“In fact, rather than take on the tax-dodgers, successive governments have cut off HMRC at its knees, slashing its funding and the number of tax inspectors by half over the last decade.
“When the wealthy engage in the kind of practices seen in the Paradise Papers, they are picking the pockets of nurses, teachers, doctors and other hard-working public servants, and harming the lives of everyone in the UK who uses public services.”
He said the government must take “swift action” to bring tax-dodgers to heel.
General union Unite said it was “outrageous” that while those on zero-hours contracts and in low-paid employment were expected to pay tax on their wages “to the last penny,” the rich and powerful could “squirrel away” millions in offshore accounts.
The union accused the Tories of failing to act because of its “direct benefit from the tax affairs of Tory donor Lord Ashcroft” who has donated £10 million to the party and has been revealed as one of those hiding millions from the taxpayer.
Unite general secretary Len McCluskey said: “Taxpayers will be furious at the efforts of the super-rich and their advisers, including the Queen’s, to dodge paying their fair share of tax.
“These tax avoidance schemes may be legal, but there is deep anger and disgust about the ‘them and us’ attitude to paying tax revealed in the Paradise Papers.”
He blasted PM Theresa May’s refusal to commit to introducing a public register of who owns offshore companies and trusts in British tax havens or to opening a public inquiry into tax avoidance.
“Those struggling to put food on the table for their families and to pay their mortgages and rents are expected to pay every penny of tax on the dot, but there is a parallel financial universe for the global elite, using fancy accounting instruments and legal wheezes, to protect their mountains of cash from the taxman,” he said.
He said that tax avoidance was just as immoral as tax evasion and called for Theresa May to take the lead with “robust proposals” in this month’s Budget.