The real reason the UK fears an EU Tobin tax

French farmers are set fair to do well out of an European Tobin tax.

Sometime today, in a conference room in Berlin, David Cameron will indulge in a certain amount of spleen venting. No doubt a little tapping pointedly on the table will take place. Who knows, maybe he'll even advise his interlocutor to "listen to the Doctor dear".

And then with a bit of luck, Angela Merkel, bedecked in Lincoln Green, will lean over the table, and whisper "But David. I thought we were all in this together?"

What will have brought all this unpleasantness to pass? Why it's that new favourite wheeze of German and French politicians: the Tobin Tax.

Now, the Tobin tax is that strangest of beasts, a popular levy. One that the public would welcome with open arms. So how come we have the German Chancellor offering to take from the rich to give to the poor, while Cameron, Osborne, Balls and Cable all scramble to play the Sheriff of Nottingham, shouting "no, no, no"?

When all three major parties pass up the opportunity of a populist open goal, you know there must be more to this than meets the eye. And there is.

Firstly - and it would be easy to miss this -- the Lib Dems, Tories and Labour are all actually in favour of the Tobin tax. Everyone thinks it's a grand plan. Just not right now. And not in the form the Merkozy axis has proposed.

"Give me a Tobin tax and fiscal continence. But not yet," they are saying, in a St-Augustine-sort-of-a way.

So what's the problem?

Well the financial implications to London have been extensively written about already.

But there's another issue: French farmers.

No, really.

Of course, it's not just Normandy cheesemakers and the like. It's every other thing the EU spends money on -- though with large parts of the total EU budget going on the Common Agricultural Policy, French farmers are set fair to do well out of an EU wide Tobin tax.

How come? Because as things stand, revenue raised from The City of London would go, not to the Treasury, but to Brussels. You can write your own Daily Mail headlines, can't you? I expect Paul Dacre already has.

And that's the nub of the problem. With 70 per cent of its potential revenue coming from the UK, even the most pro-European British politicians fear that the Tobin tax, excellent idea though it is, may prove rather less popular with the British public when they see what the money is being spent on.

Because given the state of the Eurozone, Angela Merkel knows we're all in this together. But some of us are in it rather more than others.

 

Richard Morris blogs at A View From Ham Common, named Best New Blog at the 2011 Lib Dem Conference.

Richard Morris blogs at A View From Ham Common, which was named Best New Blog at the 2011 Lib Dem Conference

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On civil liberties, David Davis has become a complete hypocrite – and I'm not sure he even knows it

The Brexit minster's stance shows a man not overly burdened with self-awareness.

In 2005, David Davis ran for the Tory leadership. He was widely assumed to be the front-runner and, as frontrunners in Tory leadership campaigns have done so enthusiastically throughout modern history, he lost.

The reason I bring up this ancient history is because it gives me an excuse to remind you of this spectacularly ill-judged photoshoot:


“And you're sure this doesn't make me look a bit sexist?”
Image: Getty

Obviously it’s distressing to learn that, as recently as October 2005, an ostensibly serious politician could have thought that drawing attention to someone else’s boobs was a viable electoral strategy. (Going, one assumes, for that all important teenage boy vote.)

But what really strikes me about that photo is quite how pleased with himself Davis looks. Not only is he not thinking to himself, “Is it possible that this whole thing was a bad idea?” You get the distinct impression that he’s never had that thought in his life.

This impression is not dispelled by the interview he gave to the Telegraph‘s Alice Thompson and Rachel Sylvester three months earlier. (Hat tip to Tom Hamilton for bringing it to my attention.) It’s an amazing piece of work – I’ve read it twice, and I’m still not sure if the interviewers are in on the joke – so worth reading in its entirety. But to give you a flavour, here are some highlights:

He has a climbing wall in his barn and an ice-axe leaning against his desk. Next to a drinks tray in his office there is a picture of him jumping out of a helicopter. Although his nose has been broken five times, he still somehow manages to look debonair. (...)

To an aide, he shouts: “Call X - he’ll be at MI5,” then tells us: “You didn’t hear that. I know lots of spooks.” (...)

At 56, he comes – as he puts it – from “an older generation”. He did not change nappies, opting instead to teach his children to ski and scuba-dive to make them brave. (...)

“I make all the important decisions about World War Three, she makes the unimportant ones about where we’re going to live.”

And my personal favourite:

When he was demoted by IDS, he hit back, saying darkly: “If you’re hunting big game, you must make sure you kill with the first shot.”

All this, I think, tells us two things. One is that David Davis is not a man who is overly burdened with self-doubt. The other is that he probably should be once in a while, because bloody hell, he looks ridiculous, and it’s clear no one around him has the heart to tell him.

Which brings us to this week’s mess. On Monday, we learned that those EU citizens who choose to remain in Britain will need to apply for a listing on a new – this is in no way creepy – “settled status” register. The proposals, as reported the Guardian, “could entail an identity card backed up by entry on a Home Office central database or register”. As Brexit secretary, David Davis is the man tasked with negotiating and delivering this exciting new list of the foreign.

This is odd, because Davis has historically been a resolute opponent of this sort of nonsense. Back in June 2008, he resigned from the Tory front bench and forced a by-election in his Haltemprice & Howden constituency, in protest against the Labour government’s creeping authoritarianism.

Three months later, when Labour was pushing ID cards of its own, he warned that the party was creating a database state. Here’s the killer quote:

“It is typical of this government to kickstart their misguided and intrusive ID scheme with students and foreigners – those who have no choice but to accept the cards – and it marks the start of the introduction of compulsory ID cards for all by stealth.”

The David Davis of 2017 better hope that the David Davis of 2008 doesn’t find out what he’s up to, otherwise he’s really for it.

The Brexit secretary has denied, of course, that the government’s plan this week has anything in common with the Labour version he so despised. “It’s not an ID card,” he told the Commons. “What we are talking about here is documentation to prove you have got a right to a job, a right to residence, the rest of it.” To put it another way, this new scheme involves neither an ID card nor the rise of a database state. It’s simply a card, which proves your identity, as registered on a database. Maintained by the state.

Does he realise what he’s doing? Does the man who once quit the front bench to defend the principle of civil liberties not see that he’s now become what he hates the most? That if he continues with this policy – a seemingly inevitable result of the Brexit for which he so enthusiastically campaigned – then he’ll go down in history not as a campaigner for civil liberties, but as a bloody hypocrite?

I doubt he does, somehow. Remember that photoshoot; remember the interview. With any other politician, I’d assume a certain degree of inner turmoil must be underway. But Davis does not strike me as one who is overly prone to that, either.

Jonn Elledge edits the New Statesman's sister site CityMetric, and writes for the NS about subjects including politics, history and Daniel Hannan. You can find him on Twitter or Facebook.

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