The Jimmy Carr witchhunt should end

The comedian acted within the law.

Jimmy Carr has done the politic thing by tweeting about his tax avoidance, "I now realise I've made a terrible error of judgement," but it's a sad outcome to a witchhunt. There is nothing illegal about what he has done and he should not have been forced by the prime minister and a press pack of hounds into apologising.

This is not a defence of tax avoidance: as a moral issue, I feel that people should not take excessive measures to avoid tax, even though as editor of Spear's, a magazine for high net worths, many of my readers pay clever lawyers and accountants to do just that.

However, if we start calling people who obey the law "morally repugnant", we are in danger of undermining one of Britain's great strengths and sources of international renown, the rule of law. If judges have to hand down rulings on the basis of morality - or worse, what the prime minister thinks - then we will have done great damage.

People cannot arrange their affairs - whether for great fortunes or small businesses - fearing that the law may be retrospectively changed to make legal manoeuvres illegal, indeed not even illegal but "immoral".

A clampdown on tax avoidance is under way. The government will introduce a General Anti-Avoidance Rule which makes the spirit of the law, not its letter, the measure, and this will end once and for all the more outlandish schemes we have seen, such as K2 and Eclipse 35.

But until that point, abusing those who operate within the law, humiliating them, dragging their personal affairs into the public eye - none of these things is acceptable.

Jimmy Carr, Photograph: Getty Images

Josh Spero is the editor of Spear's magazine.

Photo: Getty
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Britain is running out of allies as it squares up to Russia

For whatever reason, Donald Trump is going to be no friend of an anti-Russia foreign policy.

The row over Donald Trump and that dossier rumbles on.

Nothing puts legs on a story like a domestic angle, and that the retired spy who compiled the file is a one of our own has excited Britain’s headline writers. The man in question, Christopher Steele, has gone to ground having told his neighbour to look after his cats before vanishing.

Although the dossier contains known errors, Steele is regarded in the intelligence community as a serious operator not known for passing on unsubstantiated rumours, which is one reason why American intelligence is investigating the claims.

“Britain's role in Trump dossier” is the Telegraph’s splash, “The ‘credible’ ex-MI6 man behind Trump Russia report” is the Guardian’s angle, “British spy in hiding” is the i’s splash.

But it’s not only British headline writers who are exercised by Mr Steele; the Russian government is too. “MI6 officers are never ex,” the Russian Embassy tweeted, accusing the UK of “briefing both ways - against Russia and US President”. “Kremlin blames Britain for Trump sex storm” is the Mail’s splash.

Elsewhere, Crispin Blunt, the chair of the Foreign Affairs Select Committee, warns that relations between the United Kingdom and Russia are as “bad as they can get” in peacetime.

Though much of the coverage of the Trump dossier has focused on the eyecatching claims about whether or not the President-Elect was caught in a Russian honeytrap, the important thing, as I said yesterday, is that the man who is seven days from becoming President of the United States, whether through inclination or intimidation, is not going to be a reliable friend of the United Kingdom against Russia.

Though Emanuel Macron might just sneak into the second round of the French presidency, it still looks likely that the final choice for French voters will be an all-Russia affair, between Francois Fillon and Marine Le Pen.

For one reason or another, Britain’s stand against Russia looks likely to be very lonely indeed.

Stephen Bush is special correspondent at the New Statesman. His daily briefing, Morning Call, provides a quick and essential guide to British politics.