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There is a way to outlaw tax havens – and I’ll personally tell world leaders how to do it

If a million people sign my open letter to Argentine President Mauricio Macri, chair of the G20, I will personally deliver it to him.

Eight years ago, at a G20 summit in London, I tried to end the unfairness of global tax havens. But as the Paradise Papers leak shows, trillions of dollars are still being siphoned off through new loopholes to dodge tax in the most shadowy places in the global economy.

It is one of today’s greatest injustices – allowing the richest to stand aside while the rest of us pay for health, education and protecting the most vulnerable. 

But now we have a chance to stop it – through an international agreement that outlaws tax havens and imposes sanctions, fines and prison sentences on those that run them.

That is why today I have launched a global petition, by the online campaigning platform Avaaz, urging immediate international action on the scandal of tax havens. 

If a million people sign my open letter to Argentine President Mauricio Macri, chair of the G20, I will personally deliver it to him – asking President Macri and other G20 leaders to finish the job we began in 2009.

Companies will always strive to minimise their tax bill. Governments, in turn, must show equal ingenuity and perseverance to keep pace. Economic activity should be taxed where it takes place. With an estimated $7 trillion held in tax havens, tackling tax avoidance – and its criminal cousin, evasion – is central to tackling inequality.

In the wake of the financial crisis we did make some inroads on tax avoidance when we agreed a blacklist of tax havens that were not complying with international rules for the exchange of tax information, and proposed new global standards for automatic exchange of tax information, including greater transparency about who really owned companies and trusts. This advance was finally endorsed in 2013 at the G8 in Lough Erne, Northern Ireland.

While most countries have complied and the UK will have country-by- country reporting by multinationals, America remains happy to demand tax information from other countries yet is immovable in its refusal to reciprocate. The state of Nevada, we discovered, was the eighth most mentioned tax haven in the Panama Papers.

Tax havens abound, and as Britain prepares to exit the EU some on the right have suggested the country should now become one. This would exacerbate tensions with our nearest neighbours, widen the gap between the top one per cent and the rest of Britain, and deprive us in future of the resources we undoubtedly need – and which Labour raised in government – for our public services, including the NHS.

Without coordinated intergovernmental action to reform the supply chain – and to set labour, environmental and taxation rules and standards – the price of our open global economy will inevitably be economic and social insecurity for millions.

The rise of the far right in countries all over the world shows why we cannot afford to ignore the defining injustices of today’s global economy – and this scandal gives us the chance to tackle one of the biggest head-on. 

Let’s not waste it.

The Avaaz petition is available here. A more in depth discussion of clamping down on tax avoidance is available in Gordon Brown's new book, My Life, Our Times, published by Penguin. 

Photo: Getty
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Commons Confidential: Tories turn on “Lord Snooty”

Your weekly dose of gossip from around Westminster.

With the Good Friday Agreement’s 20th anniversary rapidly approaching, Jeremy Corbyn’s office is scrambling to devise a celebration that doesn’t include Tony Blair. Peace in Northern Ireland is a sparkling jewel in the former prime minister’s crown, perhaps the most precious legacy of the Blair era. But peace in Labour is more elusive. Comrade Corbyn’s plot to airbrush the previous party leader out of the picture is personal. Refusing to share a Brexit referendum platform with Blair and wishing to put him in the dock over Iraq were political. Northern Ireland is more intimate: Corbyn was pilloried for IRA talks and Blair threatened to withdraw the whip after the Islington North MP met Gerry Adams before the 1997 election. The Labour plan, by the way, is to keep the celebrations real – focusing on humble folk, not grandees such as Blair.

Beleaguered Tory Europeans call Brextremist backbencher Jacob Rees-Mogg – the hard-line European Research Group’s even harder line no-dealer – “Lord Snooty” behind his back. The Edwardian poshie, who orchestrates Theresa May’s taxpayer-funded Militant Tendency (members of the Brexit party within a party are able to claim “research” fees on expenses), is beginning to grate. My irritated snout moaned that the Beano was more fun and twice as informative as the Tories’ own Lord Snooty.

Labour’s Brexit fissures are getting bigger but Remainers are also far from united. I’m told that Andy Slaughter MP is yet to forgive Chuka Umunna for an “ill-timed” pro-EU amendment to last June’s Queen’s Speech, which led to Slaughter’s sacking from the front bench for voting to stay in the single market. The word is that a looming customs union showdown could trigger more Labexits unless Jezza embraces tariff-free trade.

Cold war warriors encouraging a dodgy Czech spy to smear Comrade Corbyn couldn’t be further from the truth about his foreign adventures. In Arsenal’s Emirates Stadium, Corbyn recalled spending a night in Burundi pumping up footballs. The club offered to donate shirts for an aid trip but he asked for the balls to be shared by entire African villages. He was War on Want, not Kim Philby.

Screaming patriot Andrew Rosindell, the chairman of an obscure flags and heraldry committee, is to host a lecture in parliament on the Union Jack. I once witnessed the Romford Tory MP dress Buster, his bull terrier, in a flag waistcoat to greet Maggie Thatcher. She walked past without noticing.

A Tory MP mused that Iain Duncan Smith was nearly nicknamed “Smithy”, not “IDS”, for his 2001 leadership campaign. Smithy would still have proved a lousy commander.

Kevin Maguire is Associate Editor (Politics) on the Daily Mirror and author of our Commons Confidential column on the high politics and low life in Westminster. An award-winning journalist, he is in frequent demand on television and radio and co-authored a book on great parliamentary scandals. He was formerly Chief Reporter on the Guardian and Labour Correspondent on the Daily Telegraph.

This article first appeared in the 22 February 2018 issue of the New Statesman, Sunni vs Shia