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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Donald Trump's inauguration signals the start of a new and more unstable era

A century in which the world's hegemonic power was a rational actor is about to give way to a more terrifying reality. 

For close to a century, the United States of America has been the world’s paramount superpower, one motivated by, for good and for bad, a rational and predictable series of motivations around its interests and a commitment to a rules-based global order, albeit one caveated by an awareness of the limits of enforcing that against other world powers.

We are now entering a period in which the world’s paramount superpower is neither led by a rational or predictable actor, has no commitment to a rules-based order, and to an extent it has any guiding principle, they are those set forward in Donald Trump’s inaugural: “we will follow two simple rules: hire American and buy American”, “from this day forth, it’s going to be America first, only America first”.

That means that the jousting between Trump and China will only intensify now that he is in office.  The possibility not only of a trade war, but of a hot war, between the two should not be ruled out.

We also have another signal – if it were needed – that he intends to turn a blind eye to the actions of autocrats around the world.

What does that mean for Brexit? It confirms that those who greeted the news that an US-UK trade deal is a “priority” for the incoming administration, including Theresa May, who described Britain as “front of the queue” for a deal with Trump’s America, should prepare themselves for disappointment.

For Europe in general, it confirms what should already been apparent: the nations of Europe are going to have be much, much more self-reliant in terms of their own security. That increases Britain’s leverage as far as the Brexit talks are concerned, in that Britain’s outsized defence spending will allow it acquire goodwill and trade favours in exchange for its role protecting the European Union’s Eastern border.

That might allow May a better deal out of Brexit than she might have got under Hillary Clinton. But there’s a reason why Trump has increased Britain’s heft as far as security and defence are concerned: it’s because his presidency ushers in an era in which we are all much, much less secure. 

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