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.

Photo: Getty Images
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Britain's shrinking democracy

10 million people - more than voted for Labour in May - will be excluded from the new electoral roll.

Despite all the warnings the government is determined to press ahead with its decision to close the existing electoral roll on December 1. This red letter day in British politics is no cause for celebration. As the Smith Institute’s latest report on the switch to the new system of voter registration shows, we are about to dramatically shrink our democracy.  As many as 10 million people are likely to vanish from the electoral register for ever – equal to 20 per cent of the total electorate and greater than Labour’s entire vote in the 2015 general election. 

Anyone who has not transferred over to the new individual electoral registration system by next Tuesday will be “dropped off” the register. The independent Electoral Commission, mindful of how the loss of voters will play out in forthcoming elections, say they need at least another year to ensure the new accuracy and completeness of the registers.

Nearly half a million voters (mostly the young and those in private rented homes) will disappear from the London register. According to a recent HeraldScotland survey around 100,000 residents in Glasgow may also be left off the new system. The picture is likely to be much the same in other cities, especially in places where there’s greater mobility and concentrations of students.

These depleted registers across the UK will impact more on marginal Labour seats, especially  where turnout is already low. Conversely, they will benefit Tories in future local, Euro and general elections. As the Smith Institute report observers, Conservative voters tend to be older, home owners and less transient – and therefore more likely to appear on the electoral register.

The government continues to ignore the prospect of skewed election results owing to an incomplete electoral registers. The attitude of some Tory MPs hardly helping. For example, Eleanor Laing MP (the former shadow minister for justice) told the BBC that “if a young person cannot organize the filling in of a form that registers them to vote, they don’t deserve the right to vote”.  Leaving aside such glib remarks, what we do know is the new registers will tend to favour MPs whose support is found in more affluent rural and semi-rural areas which have stable populations.  

Even more worrying, the forthcoming changes to MPs constituencies (under the Boundary Review) will be based on the new electoral register. The new parliamentary constituencies will be based not on the voting population, but on an inaccurate and incomplete register. As Institute’s report argues, these changes are likely to unjustly benefit UKIP and the Conservative party.

That’s not to say that the voter registration system doesn’t need reforming.  It clearly does. Indeed, every evidence-based analysis of electoral registers over the last 20 years shows that both accuracy and completeness are declining – the two features of any electoral register that make it credible or not. But, the job must be done properly.  Casually leaving 10m voters off the electoral resister hardly suggests every effort has been made.

The legitimacy of our democratic system rests on ensuring that everyone can exercise their right to vote. This is a task which shouldn’t brook complacency or compromise.  We should be aiming for maximum voter registration, not settling for a system where one in five drop off the register.