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16 February 2015updated 24 Jul 2021 11:24am

Ed Balls vows to “crack down“ on tax evasion, accusing Tories of turning “a blind eye“

The shadow chancellor vows to crack down on tax evasion, as the HSBC row rumbles on.

By Anoosh Chakelian

Another day discussing tax avoidance and tax evasion, another day fewer for the Tories to keep their “long-term economic plan” on the political agenda.

It’s been a bumpy few days for Labour’s latest election campaign battle, what with the Mail investigating the Miliband family’s own tax affairs, and Tom Baldwin’s “Milly Dowler moment” comparison, but the opposition have kept their message rumbling on in the political news cycle. And the more they speak about tax avoidance and tax evasion, the more they gain an advantage over the Tories, who suffer the most from being seen as the party of the rich.

This weekend, Ed Balls vowed that Labour would not only come down hard on aggressive tax avoidance, but would also “crack down” on the illegal tax evasion, accusing the Tories of having turned “a blind eye” to such activities during their time in government. Speaking on the BBC’s Andrew Marr Show, Balls pledged to address “systemic tax evasion”:

We are the party who will crack down on tax planning and on systemic practices, where people are trying to avoid paying the tax parliament intends.

Conservatives from the Treasury and Number 10 turned a blind eye to what was happening at HSBC and that is what makes people angry.

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It has been Ed Miliband who has so far, and rather gutsily, led Labour’s message against tax avoidance, and angered certain Tory donors along the way. The fact that Miliband was fronting, and following through, on such a message suggested that it was not a subject Balls was as comfortable talking about, in spite of it being Treasury territory. The Labour MP Diane Abbott told the BBC last week that the shadow chancellor “will not touch” the subject of tax havens. 

Yet it appears Balls is on board with Miliband’s message, although he did outline the distinction between families who legitimately plan their tax affairs, and those who break the law by setting up “false structures”. He cited ISAs and tax relief for entrepreneurs as legitimate ways for individuals to reduce the amount of tax they pay, but added:

But if people are actually setting up false structures to avoid paying their tax or going off to live in Switzerland in order to avoid paying their fair share in tax, we will crack down.

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