Borrowing figures show how Osborne allowed thousands to avoid 50p tax rate

The spike in tax receipts was caused by individuals deferring income and bonuses to benefit from the new 45p rate, not a surge in earnings.

The latest borrowing figures are being trumpeted by the Tories as evidence of the success of George Osborne's economic plan, with tax receipts up by 7% compared to last year. But what they won't mention is that this spike has more to do with high earners avoiding the 50p tax rate than it does with any rise in earnings. By deferring income and bonuses from 2012 until this year to take advantage of the new 45p rate, taxpayers have caused a £2.9bn increase in receipts. But with earnings growth of just 0.7% in the most recent month, it's far from certain that this improved trend will continue. 

As the OBR notes in its commentary on the figures: 

Growth in both income tax and NICs for the year-to-date is above the full year forecasts, but this largely reflects the fact that receipts in the first few months of the year benefited from the deferral of some income/bonuses to take advantage of the reduction of the additional rate of income tax to 45p and some temporary effects in non-PAYE income tax. Prospects for PAYE and NIC receipts growth will depend on the feed-through from the low growth in average weekly earnings in the latest data.
The IFS similarly warns
It is important to note that some of the strong growth in receipts observed earlier in the year may not be expected to persist for the rest of the financial year, as it may be the result of some high income individuals pushing part of their income from last year into the beginning of this tax year in order to take advantage of the reduction in the higher rate of income tax.
And with individuals paying tax at 45p, rather than 50p, the Exchequer is left out of pocket. Osborne's stated justification for abolishing the 50p rate was that, due to mass avoidance, it raised "just a third of the £3bn" expected. But while it's true that £16bn of income was shifted into the previous tax year  - when the rate was still 40p - this was a trick the rich could only have played once. And as the government has acknowledged on other occasions, tax avoidance isn't an argument for cutting tax, it's an argument for stopping avoidance. 
 
Having falsely claimed that the (anomalous) first year of the 50p rate proved that it was ineffective, the Tories are now using the (anomalous) first year of the 45p rate to argue that they were right to scrap it. We'll never know how much the 50p rate would actually have raised - and that is just as Osborne intended. 
 
Shadow chief secretary to the Treasury Chris Leslie said: "It’s significant that the OBR has pointed out that very high earners delayed their bonuses to take advantage of David Cameron’s top rate tax cut.

"While this artificially boosts this year’s borrowing figures, overall the Treasury will have lost millions of pounds as a result of the highest earners deferring income to pay tax at a lower rate."

"This is yet more proof that David Cameron stands up for the wrong people. While those at the top are reaping the benefits of a huge tax cut, ordinary people on middle and low incomes are seeing their living standards fall."

George Osborne speaks at the Conservative conference in Manchester last month. Photograph: Getty Images.

George Eaton is political editor of the New Statesman.

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Hannan Fodder: This week, Daniel Hannan gets his excuses in early

I didn't do it. 

Since Daniel Hannan, a formerly obscure MEP, has emerged as the anointed intellectual of the Brexit elite, The Staggers is charting his ascendancy...

When I started this column, there were some nay-sayers talking Britain down by doubting that I was seriously going to write about Daniel Hannan every week. Surely no one could be that obsessed with the activities of one obscure MEP? And surely no politician could say enough ludicrous things to be worthy of such an obsession?

They were wrong, on both counts. Daniel and I are as one on this: Leave and Remain, working hand in glove to deliver on our shared national mission. There’s a lesson there for my fellow Remoaners, I’m sure.

Anyway. It’s week three, and just as I was worrying what I might write this week, Dan has ridden to the rescue by writing not one but two columns making the same argument – using, indeed, many of the exact same phrases (“not a club, but a protection racket”). Like all the most effective political campaigns, Dan has a message of the week.

First up, on Monday, there was this headline, in the conservative American journal, the Washington Examiner:

“Why Brexit should work out for everyone”

And yesterday, there was his column on Conservative Home:

“We will get a good deal – because rational self-interest will overcome the Eurocrats’ fury”

The message of the two columns is straightforward: cooler heads will prevail. Britain wants an amicable separation. The EU needs Britain’s military strength and budget contributions, and both sides want to keep the single market intact.

The Con Home piece makes the further argument that it’s only the Eurocrats who want to be hardline about this. National governments – who have to answer to actual electorates – will be more willing to negotiate.

And so, for all the bluster now, Theresa May and Donald Tusk will be skipping through a meadow, arm in arm, before the year is out.

Before we go any further, I have a confession: I found myself nodding along with some of this. Yes, of course it’s in nobody’s interests to create unnecessary enmity between Britain and the continent. Of course no one will want to crash the economy. Of course.

I’ve been told by friends on the centre-right that Hannan has a compelling, faintly hypnotic quality when he speaks and, in retrospect, this brief moment of finding myself half-agreeing with him scares the living shit out of me. So from this point on, I’d like everyone to keep an eye on me in case I start going weird, and to give me a sharp whack round the back of the head if you ever catch me starting a tweet with the word, “Friends-”.

Anyway. Shortly after reading things, reality began to dawn for me in a way it apparently hasn’t for Daniel Hannan, and I began cataloguing the ways in which his argument is stupid.

Problem number one: Remarkably for a man who’s been in the European Parliament for nearly two decades, he’s misunderstood the EU. He notes that “deeper integration can be more like a religious dogma than a political creed”, but entirely misses the reason for this. For many Europeans, especially those from countries which didn’t have as much fun in the Second World War as Britain did, the EU, for all its myriad flaws, is something to which they feel an emotional attachment: not their country, but not something entirely separate from it either.

Consequently, it’s neither a club, nor a “protection racket”: it’s more akin to a family. A rational and sensible Brexit will be difficult for the exact same reasons that so few divorcing couples rationally agree not to bother wasting money on lawyers: because the very act of leaving feels like a betrayal.

Or, to put it more concisely, courtesy of Buzzfeed’s Marie Le Conte:

Problem number two: even if everyone was to negotiate purely in terms of rational interest, our interests are not the same. The over-riding goal of German policy for decades has been to hold the EU together, even if that creates other problems. (Exhibit A: Greece.) So there’s at least a chance that the German leadership will genuinely see deterring more departures as more important than mutual prosperity or a good relationship with Britain.

And France, whose presidential candidates are lining up to give Britain a kicking, is mysteriously not mentioned anywhere in either of Daniel’s columns, presumably because doing so would undermine his argument.

So – the list of priorities Hannan describes may look rational from a British perspective. Unfortunately, though, the people on the other side of the negotiating table won’t have a British perspective.

Problem number three is this line from the Con Home piece:

“Might it truly be more interested in deterring states from leaving than in promoting the welfare of its peoples? If so, there surely can be no further doubt that we were right to opt out.”

If there any rhetorical technique more skin-crawlingly horrible, than, “Your response to my behaviour justifies my behaviour”?

I could go on, about how there’s no reason to think that Daniel’s relatively gentle vision of Brexit is shared by Nigel Farage, UKIP, or a significant number of those who voted Leave. Or about the polls which show that, far from the EU’s response to the referendum pushing more European nations towards the door, support for the union has actually spiked since the referendum – that Britain has become not a beacon of hope but a cautionary tale.

But I’m running out of words, and there’ll be other chances to explore such things. So instead I’m going to end on this:

Hannan’s argument – that only an irrational Europe would not deliver a good Brexit – is remarkably, parodically self-serving. It allows him to believe that, if Brexit goes horribly wrong, well, it must all be the fault of those inflexible Eurocrats, mustn’t it? It can’t possibly be because Brexit was a bad idea in the first place, or because liberal Leavers used nasty, populist ones to achieve their goals.

Read today, there are elements of Hannan’s columns that are compelling, even persuasive. From the perspective of 2020, I fear, they might simply read like one long explanation of why nothing that has happened since will have been his fault.

Jonn Elledge is the editor of the New Statesman's sister site CityMetric. He is on Twitter, far too much, as @JonnElledge.