Jimmy Carr has done the politic thing by tweeting about his tax avoidance, “I now realise I’ve made a terrible error of judgement,” but it’s a sad outcome to a witchhunt. There is nothing illegal about what he has done and he should not have been forced by the prime minister and a press pack of hounds into apologising.
This is not a defence of tax avoidance: as a moral issue, I feel that people should not take excessive measures to avoid tax, even though as editor of Spear’s, a magazine for high net worths, many of my readers pay clever lawyers and accountants to do just that.
However, if we start calling people who obey the law “morally repugnant”, we are in danger of undermining one of Britain’s great strengths and sources of international renown, the rule of law. If judges have to hand down rulings on the basis of morality – or worse, what the prime minister thinks – then we will have done great damage.
People cannot arrange their affairs – whether for great fortunes or small businesses – fearing that the law may be retrospectively changed to make legal manoeuvres illegal, indeed not even illegal but “immoral”.
A clampdown on tax avoidance is under way. The government will introduce a General Anti-Avoidance Rule which makes the spirit of the law, not its letter, the measure, and this will end once and for all the more outlandish schemes we have seen, such as K2 and Eclipse 35.
But until that point, abusing those who operate within the law, humiliating them, dragging their personal affairs into the public eye – none of these things is acceptable.