Nicky Morgan. Photo: Getty
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Nicky Morgan appears to agree that non-doms should pay tax. What?

But she’s a Conservative minister! This mole is confused.

Nicky Morgan, Conservative education minister, was the sole Tory spokesperson on the Today programme this morning, so she was the unlucky enough to have to respond to Labour’s “non-doms should pay tax” policy announcement. (An actual policy being announced during a general election campaign, I hear you say? Try not to be too surprised, they slip out sometimes.)

Jim Naughtie naughtily tacked it onto an otherwise unremarkable interview about primary education. That’s when it all got confusing.

The key part is here, at about 2hrs40mins.

Morgan says:

Labour had 13 years in which to tackle this and they’ve haven’t done this. I don’t think anyone would disagree that people should be paying taxes here, because those taxes are essential for what we’ve just been discussing, education.

She makes it sound as if all reasonable people would, of course, agree that people living in this country should pay tax on their earnings. Except that hasn’t been her government’s policy up until now, and she’s currently supposed to be rebutting exactly this proposal from the opposition party. Naughtie pounces:

Well hang on, you’re saying that no one would disagree that people living here with non-dom status should be paying taxes on their overseas earnings?

She responds:

Yes, well that’s exactly what we’ve said, both individuals and corporates, and that’s why we’ve increased the non-dom levy...

They go back and forth a few more times on the levy, and then Naughtie gently reminds her that this “isn’t your government’s policy”. At which point she staggers backwards and attempts to walk to party line for the rest of the interview.

This mole is confused. What should reasonable people be agreeing with about non-doms paying tax, Minister Morgan?

Here’s a transcript of the whole exchange:

NM My reaction is that once you look at the detail, actually they’re not proposing to abolish non-dom status. They’re talking about potentially changing the length of time someone will be able to be here...

JN ...they’re tightening the rules, no argument about that, they’re tightening the rules. Is that a good thing or a bad thing?

NM Well, we have already tightened the rules in this parliament. And we are very clear, the Conservative Party and George Osborne in the Treasury has been very clear that people who are based here should pay taxes here, we’ve introduced from last week a tax on companies...

JN ...Well hang on, a lot of them don’t...

NM But we have absolutely cracked down. We’ve increased the non-dom levy in this parliament, non-doms are paying more than they’ve ever paid before. Labour had 13 years in which to tackle this and they’ve haven’t done this. I don’t think anyone would disagree that people should be paying taxes here, because those taxes are essential for what we’ve just been discussing, education.

JN Well hang on, you’re saying that no one would disagree that people living here with non-dom status should be paying taxes on their overseas earnings?

NM Yes, well that’s exactly what we’ve said, both individuals and corporates, and that’s why we’ve increased the non-dom levy...

JN Well why aren’t they?

NM We have increased the non-dom levy...

JN No, the levy is one thing, and the level at which it is set is one thing, paying the tax is another. Are you saying they should pay the tax? Because that’s not your government’s policy.

NM I’m saying that we have at the Treasury clawed back £5bn in this parliament, a crack down on aggressive tax avoidance and evasion and I think that’s exactly what we should do. They’re now paying more in stamp duty...

JN That’s a different issue...

NM I think it’s overall the same issue, that people who are based here should pay their taxes here, and that’s exactly why the diverted profit tax which we saw come into force last week is exactly what we have done in this parliament, because those taxes are essential to pay for those essential services, like education, health and other critical public services which people expect to be fully funded.

JN Are you saying that you, personally, from what you’ve just said, would like to see people with non-dom status paying tax in this country on their overseas earnings?

NM Well, I think we can have the debate about it. I think what the Labour Party are...

JN No, I’m just asking you. Would you like that to happen?

NM What the Labour Party are not being clear about today is on whether they are intending to abolish non-dom status, or simply change or consult on the length of time people would be here to before they have to pay their taxes...

JN Well, that’s fine. John talked to Ed Balls about that earlier. But I’m asking you: would you like to see non-doms paying tax on their overseas earnings or not?

NM Well, we certainly...As I say, that’s why we’ve increased the non-dom levy in this parliament. Non-doms are now paying more in this parliament thanks to the Conseravtive-led government policies over the course of the past five years, I think that’s the right thing to happen.

JN Nicky Morgan, thank you very much.

I'm a mole, innit.

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Cabinet audit: what does the appointment of Andrea Leadsom as Environment Secretary mean for policy?

The political and policy-based implications of the new Secretary of State for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs.

A little over a week into Andrea Leadsom’s new role as Secretary of State for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs (Defra), and senior industry figures are already questioning her credentials. A growing list of campaigners have called for her resignation, and even the Cabinet Office implied that her department's responsibilities will be downgraded.

So far, so bad.

The appointment would appear to be something of a consolation prize, coming just days after Leadsom pulled out of the Conservative leadership race and allowed Theresa May to enter No 10 unopposed.

Yet while Leadsom may have been able to twist the truth on her CV in the City, no amount of tampering will improve the agriculture-related side to her record: one barely exists. In fact, recent statements made on the subject have only added to her reputation for vacuous opinion: “It would make so much more sense if those with the big fields do the sheep, and those with the hill farms do the butterflies,” she told an audience assembled for a referendum debate. No matter the livelihoods of thousands of the UK’s hilltop sheep farmers, then? No need for butterflies outside of national parks?

Normally such a lack of experience is unsurprising. The department has gained a reputation as something of a ministerial backwater; a useful place to send problematic colleagues for some sobering time-out.

But these are not normal times.

As Brexit negotiations unfold, Defra will be central to establishing new, domestic policies for UK food and farming; sectors worth around £108bn to the economy and responsible for employing one in eight of the population.

In this context, Leadsom’s appointment seems, at best, a misguided attempt to make the architects of Brexit either live up to their promises or be seen to fail in the attempt.

At worst, May might actually think she is a good fit for the job. Leadsom’s one, water-tight credential – her commitment to opposing restraints on industry – certainly has its upsides for a Prime Minister in need of an alternative to the EU’s Common Agricultural Policy (CAP); a policy responsible for around 40 per cent the entire EU budget.

Why not leave such a daunting task in the hands of someone with an instinct for “abolishing” subsidies  thus freeing up money to spend elsewhere?

As with most things to do with the EU, CAP has some major cons and some equally compelling pros. Take the fact that 80 per cent of CAP aid is paid out to the richest 25 per cent of farmers (most of whom are either landed gentry or vast, industrialised, mega-farmers). But then offset this against the provision of vital lifelines for some of the UK’s most conscientious, local and insecure of food producers.

The NFU told the New Statesman that there are many issues in need of urgent attention; from an improved Basic Payment Scheme, to guarantees for agri-environment funding, and a commitment to the 25-year TB eradication strategy. But that they also hope, above all, “that Mrs Leadsom will champion British food and farming. Our industry has a great story to tell”.

The construction of a new domestic agricultural policy is a once-in-a-generation opportunity for Britain to truly decide where its priorities for food and environment lie, as well as to which kind of farmers (as well as which countries) it wants to delegate their delivery.

In the context of so much uncertainty and such great opportunity, Leadsom has a tough job ahead of her. And no amount of “speaking as a mother” will change that.

India Bourke is the New Statesman's editorial assistant.