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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Even before Brexit, immigrants are shunning the UK

The 49,000 fall in net migration will come at a cost.

Article 50 may not have been triggered yet but immigrants are already shunning the UK. The number of newcomers fell by 23,000 to 596,000 in the year to last September, with a sharp drop in migrants from the EU8 states (such as Poland and the Czech Republic). Some current residents are trying their luck elsewhere: emigration rose by 26,000 to 323,000. Consequently, net migration has fallen by 49,000 to 273,000, far above the government's target of "tens of thousands" but the lowest level since June 2014.

The causes of the UK's reduced attractiveness are not hard to discern. The pound’s depreciation (which makes British wages less competitive), the spectre of Brexit and a rise in hate crimes and xenophobia are likely to be the main deterrents (though numbers from Romania and Bulgaria remain healthy). Ministers have publicly welcomed the figures but many privately acknowledge that they come at a price. The OBR recently forecast that lower migration would cost £6bn a year by 2020-21. As well as reflecting weaker growth, reduced immigration is likely to reinforce it. Migrants pay far more in tax than they claim in benefits, with a net contribution of £7bn a year. An OBR study found that with zero net migration, public sector debt would rise to 145 per cent of GDP by 2062-63, while with high net migration it would fall to 73 per cent.

Earlier this week, David Davis revealed the government's economic anxieties when he told a press conference in Estonia: "In the hospitality sector, hotels and restaurants, in the social care sector, working in agriculture, it will take time. It will be years and years before we get British citizens to do those jobs. Don’t expect just because we’re changing who makes the decision on the policy, the door will suddenly shut - it won’t."

But Theresa May, whose efforts to meet the net migration target as Home Secretary were obstructed by the Treasury, is determined to achieve a lasting reduction in immigration. George Osborne, her erstwhile adversary, recently remarked: "The government has chosen – and I respect this decision – not to make the economy the priority." But in her subsequent interview with the New Statesman, May argued: "It is possible to achieve an outcome which is both a good result for the economy and is a good result for people who want us to control immigration – to be able to set our own rules on the immigration of people coming from the European Union. It is perfectly possible to find an arrangement and a partnership with the EU which does that."

Much depends on how "good" is defined. The British economy is resilient enough to endure a small reduction in immigration but a dramatic fall would severely affect growth. Not since 1997 has "net migration" been in the "tens of thousands". As Davis acknowledged, the UK has since become dependent on high immigration. Both the government and voters may only miss migrants when they're gone.

George Eaton is political editor of the New Statesman.