Farage admits offshore tax fund was a mistake: "I'm not rich enough"

A bad day for UKIP as Farage's tax avoidance is exposed and the party loses its deposit in the Aberdeen Donside by-election.

Has Nigel Farage's seemingly inexorable rise finally come to an end? It feels that way this morning. The UKIP leader is on the defensive after the Daily Mirror revealed that he opened an offshore trust fund on the Isle of Man "for inheritance purposes", while in last night's Scottish by-election in Aberdeen Donside his party finished a disappointing fifth and lost its deposit after winning only 4.8 per cent of the vote. 

Farage wisely responded to the tax story by immediately admitting that it was "a mistake", although his declaration that he's "not rich enough to need one" is unlikely elicit much sympathy from voters. He said: "My financial advisers recommended I did it, to have a trust really for inheritance purposes and I took the advice and I set it up.

"It was a mistake. I was a completely unsuitable person for it. I am not blaming them, it was my fault.

"It's a vehicle that you chuck things in through your life that you don't need and you build up a trust fund for your children or grandchildren.

"It was called an educational trust and could have been used for grandchildren's schools fees, things like that.

"It was a mistake for three reasons. Firstly, I’m not rich enough to need one and I am never going to be.

"Secondly, frankly, the world has changed. Things that we thought were absolutely fair practice 10 years, 20 years ago, 30 years ago aren’t any more.

"Thirdly, it was a mistake because it cost me money. I sent a cheque off to set it up."

The story is all the more damaging for Farage because he also stands accused of hypocrisy. In a speech last month in the European Parliament, he told MEPs that they had a "common enemy – rich people, successful companies evading tax". Farage, of course, is guilty of legal tax avoidance, not illegal tax evasion, but it's the shared motive that counts. 

As for the by-election, while UKIP's share of 4.8 per cent might be considered impressive given that it had no previous presence in the seat, its prediction that it would keep its deposit (by polling at least 5 per cent) means it must be regarded as a failure. Lord Monckton, the party's Scottish leader, declared before the result: "We have made a breakthrough. It's clear now we'll keep our deposit".

Alex Salmond (interviewed in this week's NS) said: "They have never saved a single deposit in Scotland, which once again demonstrates a clear divergence between Scottish and Westminster politics."

Here's the result in full

  • Mark McDonald (SNP): 9,814 - 42% (-13.4%)
  • Willie Young (Labour): 7,789 - 33.3% (+5.5%)
  • Christine Jardine (Lib Dem)1,940 - 8.3% (+2.3%)
  • Ross Thomson (Conservative): 1,791 - 7.7% (-0.4%)
  • Otto Inglis (UKIP): 1,128 - 4.8% (+4.8)
  • Rhonda Reekie (Scottish Greens): 410 - 1.8% (+1.8%)
  • Dave MacDonald (Scottish National Front): 249 - 1.1% (+0.3%)
  • Tom Morrow (Scottish Christian Party "Proclaiming Christ's Lordship"): 222 - 0.9% (+0.9%)
  • James Trolland (Scottish Democratic Alliance): 35 - 0.1% (+0.1%)

Update: Labour has just issued its response to the tax story. John Spellar MP said: "I know Nigel Farage wants to appeal to disaffected Tories, but copying some of the Tories' biggest donors by using offshore trusts to avoid tax is taking things too far. It's typical of UKIP - they talk about how much they love this country, but they don't even bank here – it’s just hypocritical."

UKIP leader Nigel Farage addresses the media in London on May 3, 2013. Photograph: Getty Images.

George Eaton is political editor of the New Statesman.

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Theresa May’s Brexit speech is Angela Merkel’s victory – here’s why

The Germans coined the word “merkeln to describe their Chancellor’s approach to negotiations. 

It is a measure of Britain’s weak position that Theresa May accepts Angela Merkel’s ultimatum even before the Brexit negotiations have formally started

The British Prime Minister blinked first when she presented her plan for Brexit Tuesday morning. After months of repeating the tautological mantra that “Brexit means Brexit”, she finally specified her position when she essentially proposed that Britain should leave the internal market for goods, services and people, which had been so championed by Margaret Thatcher in the 1980s. 

By accepting that the “UK will be outside” and that there can be “no half-way house”, Theresa May has essentially caved in before the negotiations have begun.

At her meeting with May in July last year, the German Chancellor stated her ultimatum that there could be no “Rosinenpickerei” – the German equivalent of cherry picking. Merkel stated that Britain was not free to choose. That is still her position.

Back then, May was still battling for access to the internal market. It is a measure of how much her position has weakened that the Prime Minister has been forced to accept that Britain will have to leave the single market.

For those who have followed Merkel in her eleven years as German Kanzlerin there is sense of déjà vu about all this.  In negotiations over the Greek debt in 2011 and in 2015, as well as in her negotiations with German banks, in the wake of the global clash in 2008, Merkel played a waiting game; she let others reveal their hands first. The Germans even coined the word "merkeln", to describe the Chancellor’s favoured approach to negotiations.

Unlike other politicians, Frau Merkel is known for her careful analysis, behind-the-scene diplomacy and her determination to pursue German interests. All these are evident in the Brexit negotiations even before they have started.

Much has been made of US President-Elect Donald Trump’s offer to do a trade deal with Britain “very quickly” (as well as bad-mouthing Merkel). In the greater scheme of things, such a deal – should it come – will amount to very little. The UK’s exports to the EU were valued at £223.3bn in 2015 – roughly five times as much as our exports to the United States. 

But more importantly, Britain’s main export is services. It constitutes 79 per cent of the economy, according to the Office of National Statistics. Without access to the single market for services, and without free movement of skilled workers, the financial sector will have a strong incentive to move to the European mainland.

This is Germany’s gain. There is a general consensus that many banks are ready to move if Britain quits the single market, and Frankfurt is an obvious destination.

In an election year, this is welcome news for Merkel. That the British Prime Minister voluntarily gives up the access to the internal market is a boon for the German Chancellor and solves several of her problems. 

May’s acceptance that Britain will not be in the single market shows that no country is able to secure a better deal outside the EU. This will deter other countries from following the UK’s example. 

Moreover, securing a deal that will make Frankfurt the financial centre in Europe will give Merkel a political boost, and will take focus away from other issues such as immigration.

Despite the rise of the far-right Alternative für Deutschland party, the largely proportional electoral system in Germany will all but guarantee that the current coalition government continues after the elections to the Bundestag in September.

Before the referendum in June last year, Brexiteers published a poster with the mildly xenophobic message "Halt ze German advance". By essentially caving in to Merkel’s demands before these have been expressly stated, Mrs May will strengthen Germany at Britain’s expense. 

Perhaps, the German word schadenfreude comes to mind?

Matthew Qvortrup is author of the book Angela Merkel: Europe’s Most Influential Leader published by Duckworth, and professor of applied political science at Coventry University.