European Parliament leads calls to tackle tax dodging by multinationals and the super-rich

The European Parliament has been at the forefront of investigating tax scandals such as Lux Leaks and the Panama/Paradise Papers. It has set up special and inquiry committees to shed light on the on the dubious practices which help the super-rich and multinational companies to dodge their fair share of taxes.

Tax avoidance schemes diminish the funding of important services, the NHS and new infrastructure. The damage does not end there. Small and medium sized companies are at a competitive disadvantage just because they pay their taxes, while mega-corporations receive tax sweet heart deals for the authorities and can use elaborate schemes to avoid tax. All we are asking for is a playing field where everyone pays their fair share.

The European Commission, under pressure from Labour MEPs and their Socialist & Democrats colleagues from around Europe in the Parliament, has already brought forward important proposals that could make a huge difference. Unfortunately some member states in the Council, among them the UK’s Conservative Government, are trying to slow or water them down.


Panama Papers | Our Story

After 18 months of investigations, hear our story on the #PanamaPapers 🔻 And if you want to read more about it, check out our blog:

Posted by Socialists and Democrats Group in the European Parliament on Tuesday, 12 December 2017


Last week EU Finance Minister’s finally agreed the EU’s blacklist of tax havens. This is an important step but meaningless if not accompanied by strong and deterrent sanctions. The Socialist and Democrat Group in the Parliament’s argued strongly and voted for sanctions and that Ministers in the Member States should enact them.

Tax avoidance is a global phenomenon and though it is impossible for one country to tackle it alone, there are still measures the UK could implement to make a difference; unfortunately the Conservatives in government are refusing to do so. Tax dodging thrives in the cracks between the laws different countries. When countries don’t cooperate individuals and corporations exploit legal loopholes.
Whatever the UK’s future relationship might be, the European Union will continue to lead the fight against tax avoidance - simply because it is the only thing big enough to do so. The UK should be part of that fight to deliver a tax system in which everyone can have trust. Unfortunately there is a danger that the UK itself tries to survive outside the EU by itself becoming a psudo-offshore economy where corporations are attracted by tax breaks and the super-rich can shelter from paying their fair share. That would be a poor basis for any productive relationship with the EU.

The report, I voted for today reiterates the European Parliament’s commitment on fair and just taxation. The Council, and especially the UK government, should follow suit.

Posted by John Howarth
Threat to Horse Racing After Brexit

Threat to Horse Racing After Brexit

John Howarth, Labour MEP for South East England, met with the British Horse Racing Authority at trainer Stan Moore’s Yard at Lambourn on Tuesday (Nov 21 2017) to discuss the free movement of thoroughbred horses between the UK, Ireland and France after Brexit.
The free movement of racehorses between the UK, Ireland and France has been governed by the Tripartite Agreement between the national Horse Racing authorities but is subject to EU law and due to end when Britain leaves the European Union.
If no arrangements are agreed for racehorses, these movements will in future require veterinary health checks and temporary-admission documentation. Race horses, regarded as ‘highly healthy animals’ are exempt from routinely applied checks  These checks are likely to affect the health and welfare of the horse, and will impose additional costs on the horse trainers. This will, in turn, place the whole industry under threat.
John Howarth MEP said, “Maintaining the Tripartite Agreement is essential. Without a special agreement for the horseracing and bloodstock industry Brexit represents a major problem. The Government gave no thought clearly to the minutiae of Brexit, including what will happen to horse racing. In this area as many others a hard Brexit would be disastrous for the the economy in the South East. I will be liaising with my French and Irish contacts in the Parliament to develop an alliance to protect the best interests of horse racing. Nobody voted for a Brexit that damages the much loved pursuits that are part of our national life.”

Annually, over 10,000 racehorses move between England and Ireland alone.
Horseracing is big business for Newbury. Recent figures show that over 3,700 racehorses can be found in the North Wessex Downs Area of Outstanding Natural Beauty. Horseracing and associated industries are a huge contributor to the local economy, providing over 1,370 full time jobs, and a home for 10% of Britain’s racehorse trainers. The industry are also concerned about the availability of yard staff and riders if freedom of movement is ended.

Posted by John Howarth
John visits Culham and calls for assurances over future of fusion research

John visits Culham and calls for assurances over future of fusion research

John Howarth MEP has urged the Conservative Government to provide assurances to protect the future of the JET project at Culham Nuclear Fusion Energy.

The JET (Joint European Torus) project is the world leading experiment in Fusion Energy, which promises abundant clean, safe energy in the future. The Oxfordshire project involves scientists from all over Europe and is conducted under, EURATOM - the European Union Treaty on the operation of nuclear technologies which Theresa May has committed the UK to leaving.   

John visited Culham Nuclear Fusion Energy on Monday (20 Nov 2017) to discuss the impact of Brexit and inspected the world’s largest and most powerful tokamak and the highlight of European fusion research programme.

The work conducted at the Culham JET tokamak takes the scientific community toward practical energy supply from nuclear fusion by proving the essential technologies and also contributes towards lowering the costs of construction of the International Experimental Thermonuclear Reactor, based in the South of France.

John Howarth MEP said: “Britain is a trailblazer in nuclear fusion technology, and it’s essential to both the UK and the rest of the EU that we keep the UK as part of the EURATOM community after Brexit.

“Nuclear Fusion research is too big a commitment for any one country alone. Decades of work cannot go down the pan based on the Conservative Government’s inability to get their act together and negotiate.

“The reckless commitment to leave EURATOM simply has to be reversed at least to provide an association agreement that will enable scientists to continue this vit”work. Severing our links with the EU’s scientific communities is a lose-lose situation for the UK and the other 27 countries of the EU.’

Posted by John Howarth
Letter calling on governments to act on tax havens

Letter calling on governments to act on tax havens

Below is the text of a letter sent to The Guardian that I was happy to sign, with MEP and MP colleagues, calling on governments to take action against tax havens:

Dear Sirs,

We, the undersigned parliamentarians, are deeply concerned by recent revelations from the 'Paradise Papers' investigation.

We regret that some governments, not least the British government, have failed to learn the lessons from the previous 'LuxLeaks' and 'Panama Papers' scandals. In particular, we are concerned that insufficient progress has been made to ensure that investment vehicles like trusts are sufficiently transparent. We are also concerned that tax havens, like those involved in the Paradise Papers, have been able to continue with highly opaque company and trust registration models. It has also been disappointing to see some countries try to block measures against tax havens like the EU's blacklist of tax havens.

We call together for all governments to place renewed emphasis on tax transparency and fully implement Public Country-by-Country Reporting. In particular, we call for information on trusts to be made publicly available, and for all tax havens to be forced to automatically share information with international tax authorities. We also call for stronger regulation of intermediaries, including penalties for those proven to be involved in tax evasion, aggressive tax avoidance or money laundering.

Failure to act against aggressive tax avoidance and evasion is depriving public services of desperately-needed funding. It also enables some multinational companies to unfairly undercut many small and medium-sized businesses. The Paradise Papers must act as a wake-up call to deal with industrial-scale tax dodging, once and for all.

Anneliese Dodds MP, United Kingdom
Paul Tang MEP, Netherlands
Evelyn Regner MEP, Austria
Jeppe Kofod MEP, Denmark
John Howarth MEP, United Kingdom
Segio Cofferati MEP, Italy
Hugues Bayet MEP, Belgium
Pervenche Berès MEP, France
Ana Gomes MEP, Portugal
Neena Gill MEP, United Kingdom
Jakob von Weizsäcker MEP, Germany
Udo Bullmann MEP, Germany
Roberto Gualtieri MEP, Italy
Peter Simon MEP, Germany
Dietmar Köster MEP, Germany
Virginie Rozière MEP, France
Ramón Jáuregui Atondo MEP, Spain
Nessa Childers MEP, Ireland
Péter Niedermüller MEP, Hungary
Elly Schlein MEP, Italy

I have also co-signed a similar letter drawn up by former the Prime Minister, Gordon Brown.

Posted by John Howarth

The future of fusion research

In a speech tonight to the European Parliament Plenary session I argued that Britain must remain in Euratom and within the European research framework for fusion power. I told the Session:

“Nuclear fusion is the holy grail of energy research, with the potential to deliver energy equivalent of 10,000 tons of coal from the atoms in this small bottle of water and no CO2 emissions.

“Commercial fusion now has a realistic future but that future is at risk because of Brexit.“The UK Atomic Energy Authority operates the world’s largest magnetic fusion experiment, the Joint European Torus or JET, with scientists from all over Europe.

“This project is far too big for any one nation state alone. It is the classic example of the economies of scale we achieve through our European Union.

“This world-leading research facility is in my constituency and you simply can’t put it on a truck.

“I hope that Monsieur Barnier and Mrs May are both listening: JET needs Europe, Europe needs JET and the UK’s place is in Euratom.”.

Posted by John Howarth
Academic freedom is worth fighting for

Academic freedom is worth fighting for

Last week I met with Student Officers and staff of Kent Union and students from the University of Kent (above) to listen to their concerns about the threat Brexit presents to UK Universities.

The University of Kent brands itself as the UK’s ‘European University’, with postgraduate centres in four European capital cities. Important aims of my work as an MEP is to protect funding and recruitment for UK Universities post-Brexit, to ensure that UK Students can continue to participate within the Erasmus scheme after Brexit and are not restricted from studying within European universities.
Many students are deeply concerned that they will have limited access to pursue academic study across Europe post-Brexit, if the Erasmus scheme is no longer available to them. Currently, the University of Kent exchanges some 300 students a year with over 100 European partner institutions. This is reciprocated across all universities within the South East: we must ensure that this opportunity is still available after 2019 and demonstrate that we listen and respect the voice of young people, the vast majority of whom did not vote for Brexit.

Protecting the rights of EU Citizens is crucial and is especially important to UK universities for their staff and student recruitment. For example, almost a quarter (23%) of the University of Kent’s academic staff are from the EU. Similarly, 41% of its international students are from the EU. Many EU students studying here are worried that their status will drastically change, and consequently affect their career opportunities, if no deal is reached on Citizens Rights. This is also a concern shared by academic staff, who fear that recruitment problems will lead to a dip in the quality of research and the variety of courses on offer.

Students also raise concerns over how easy it would be to travel across European borders, a right that has made scientific collaboration easier and which leads to better scientific research outcomes. Going back to a situation where samples were destroyed at the border would have no benefits for anyone.

The South East contains some of the world’s best research-led universities, who collaborate within research partnerships across the EU. The majority of funding is secured via the EU’s Horizon 2020 scheme and allows UK universities to work with their European partners across a diverse range of fields, particularly within scientific and medical research. In August I met with the Vice-Chancellor of Reading University, who raised concerns that the current research partnerships under Horizon 2020, must be allowed to continue post 2019 because the ability of UK universities in general, to continue to deliver world class research, will be greatly hampered if they are unable to secure critical funding made possible by Horizon 2020. I also met with Professor Buchanan and his Brexit Strategy team at the University of Oxford who told me of their serious concerns for the whole sector and in particular the consequences for medical research and the whole of the NHS.
I will continue to pursue these issues and to campaign to protect UK universities from a disastrous Brexit outcome. The South East contains the world’s leading university and a host of institution that lead and innovate in specialist fields. They are without exception strengthened through collaboration with their European partners. Tragically, some are already finding that UK institutions are no longer regarded as reliable partners for future collaborative projects dependent on EU funding. This could be the start of a viscous downward cycle toward a loss of talent and creativity from the economy and the diminution of opportunities for our young people.

The UK Tories will not act to protect young people’s interests after Brexit and care little about academic institutions. After all, few young people voted to leave, even fewer vote Conservative and those who have attended a university appear increasingly unlikely to do so. Their hard-liners show every desired to intimidate academics over Brexit and to control what can be studied through implied threats to future funding. Protecting the future of academic freedom and the freedom of academics to move freely within Europe is something, like much else, that cannot any longer be taken for granted.

Posted by John Howarth
South East England needs the Single Market

South East England needs the Single Market

In 1988 somebody said this:

“Just think for a moment what a prospect that is. A single market without barriers—visible or invisible—giving you direct and unhindered access to the purchasing power of over 300 million of the world's wealthiest and most prosperous people.

“Bigger than Japan. Bigger than the United States. On your doorstep. And with the Channel Tunnel to give you direct access to it. It's not a dream. It's not a vision. It's not some bureaucrat's plan. It's for real. And it's only five years away.”

It duly came about and over nearly 25 years the European Single Market has been hugely successful for Britain and British businesses. Jobs have been created, new markets have opened up, it has provided the platform for Britain attracting the lion’s share of inward investment and it has contributed massively to economic growth in the UK. Over the years the single market was expanded to encompass new areas of trade, indeed it is still developing with the market in digital goods and services evolving.

At the same time and partly because of the Single Market, trade has become more complex, more trans-national and more interdependent. There are many examples of how many times that consumer goods cross borders during their manufacturing process. It’s easy to understand how motor components are manufactured across borders, but other aspects of cross border production are less than obvious. The Chemicals Industry Association tells of how that fabric conditioner crosses borders 4 times during manufacture and we are told Bailey’s Irish Cream crosses the border in Ireland over 20 times during the manufacturing process.

When the social element of the Single Market - based on the very British fair-minded notion that a level playing field for capital should also involve a level playing field for labour - was added in the Maastricht Treaty Britain opted out. That lasted until Labour won the 1997 election with a landslide on a clear manifesto commitment to take Britain into the social aspects of the Treaty.

The Single Market is something Britain was instrumental in shaping - almost British common sense. It has been an undoubted success - which is why very few of those who campaigned for Britain to leave the EU talked of leaving the Single Market. In fact some of the leading figures in the ‘Leave’ campaign claimed they were not seeking to leave the Single Market. Had they done so it is not at all clear that the referendum would have gone as it did. It simply wasn’t a question, and it certainly was never on the ballot. Theresa May subsequently sought a mandate to leave the Single Market and the customs union but failed to gain a majority. Nonetheless, Leave politicians are seriously talking about a cliff edge Brexit that takes us out of the single market and customs union, ostensibly to be able to end free movement and place limits on migration. The dependency of key UK sectors on migrant and seasonal migrant labour makes that impossible to deliver without serious consequences.

When I meet constituents, businesses, unions and organisations we always talk about what Brexit will mean to them, their customers and clients. Last week I met with business representatives at the Kent Invicta Chamber of Commerce Business to Business event at Chatham and at a roundtable event organised by the new MP for Canterbury, Rosie Duffield. The message from business was clear: the uncertainty caused by Brexit is making things worse at a time of uncertain consumer and business confidence. It is in the nature of business to take the rough with the smooth and to try to ‘just get on with it’, but it is clear that planning for the future is difficult - especially when little progress is being made in the negotiations between Britain and the EU27. I find two main responses to the notion of withdrawal from the Single Market and customs union - from the larger firms who know the implications of handing customs

bureaucracy - they know that possible tariffs are a problem but that a larger problem is the time and cost consumed by customs form filling and delays. Firms with fewer than 300 employees have limited capacity to even address the issue before needs must.
I want to see Britain remaining in the single market and the customs union because it is the least damaging Brexit we can realistically achieve. If you agree with me then you can find more about the Labour Campaign for the Single market here and about Open Britain here.

Not long ago somebody said this about the Single Market:

“The EU gives businesses like the Black Sheep Brewery in Masham access to the world’s largest market. It gives farmers working in some of the most difficult terrain in our Country subsidy support. It gives young people across our Country the opportunity to move freely throughout the continent. And if you are an entrepreneur, as I was before I became your MP, the EU Single Market allows you to trade freely without having to set up offices and legal structures in each country.

The EU Single Market is important because it means job opportunities for our children and grandchildren. Of course we would survive outside the EU but the question is would we do as well as we would within it?”

Ironically this was Julian Smith who, since he became Conservative Chief Whip, is now responsible for getting their ‘hard’ Brexit through the House of Commons. The quote at the top of the article was one Margaret Thatcher.

How far the Conservatives have come from being the party of business.

Posted by John Howarth
Call time on the countries of convenience

Call time on the countries of convenience

The Isle of Man and the Channel Islands aren’t most people’s idea of ‘paradise’, but they provide useful addresses people you might otherwise spot in Monaco or Montserrat.

This week’s BBC Panorama documentary on the Paradise Papers exposed some of the flagrant abuses of these British ‘Crown Dependencies’ That’s the official ‘self governing’ status of these places and it enables major international brands, companies and wealthy individuals to pay less tax that the typical British man and woman.

That’s because, technically, these ‘British Islands’ are not part of the UK. However, in reality they are. They are ‘countries of convenience’ created to enable a lucky few to play by different rules - especially on tax. The islands have in reality been part of the British state - in so much as the Crown represents the state - for hundreds of years and they rely on the UK for defence and foreign affairs. Their people are British Citizens but they are officially outside the legislative reach of the UK Government and are not part of the European Union. The legislatures of the Islands make their own laws, and then these are rubber stamped by either the Privy Council, or if in the Isle of Man, the Lieutenant-Governor of the Island - proving the point that they are really British.

In reality there are a number of fundamental laws in these rotten boroughs that the UK has, effectively, insisted the local legislatures change. The Isle of Man was, for example, rightly compelled to abandon barbaric punishment regimes that they retained well into the 20th Century. Bearing in mind that you can fit the entire population into Wembley Stadium, it is absurd to suggest that this is a country in its own right; it’s more like a local council with its own tax law. This is very convenient to all sorts of people rich enough to buy houses that they don’t actually want to live in.

Why have a succession of British Governments let big brands, companies and the super rich get away with billions of pounds of tax evasion?

Some, like the authorities in Guernsey (the population of which would fit into Old Trafford) argue that having tax-dodging businesses located in theory (but not really) in St Peter Port somehow benefits the UK by bringing “liquidity” into UK banks and financial institutions that would otherwise just go to some other offshore bolt hole.

Maybe so, getting to grips with offshore tax dodging requires concerted action, not least by the EU but it is high time the UK Government realised the tax shelters of these ‘countries of convenience’ help convince people in the UK that the system is unfair. Even though the British are a tolerant lot and generally don’t blame weather people for taking advantage of what is, after all, perfectly legal - maybe they would do the same if they could. But ordinary folk simply can’t take advantage of these strange and wonderful rules. Seeing those with great resources play by a different set of rules on the doorstep of Blackpool undermines trust in the system.

If it were up to me the independent tax status of these islands would be ended tomorrow. For the moment, however, the leak of the so-called Paradise Papers from Appleby should make us pause for thought as to whether the Ministry of Justice should further review their definition of ‘conflict with international obligations.’

I am pleased to see the Labour Shadow Treasury team taking up this issue, and calling for some much needed transparency in the murky world of tax evasion. It should not be the case that companies like Apple can get away with routing most of their business through Jersey, or that companies like Lewis Hamilton’s Stealth (the clue’s in the name there) can form a VAT-registered leasing business on the Isle of Man to avoid paying VAT on a private jet.

The Government should have the guts to do the same. Nobody likes paying tax, but we accept it as the price of a civilised society all most people want is to know that the share they are paying is fair.

Posted by John Howarth
Do you trust the Tories on employment rights after Brexit

Do you trust the Tories on employment rights after Brexit

Boris Johnson and Daniel Hannan have demonstrated precisely why we can’t trust the Tories with our rights in the workplace.

Many of us in the Labour and Trade Union movement have doubted the Conservative promise to protect employment rights once Britain has left the European Union.

On the face of it the Conservative promise is unequivocal - the rights of people at work will be moved into UK law without change. Whatever they say, however, there is a big difference between employment rights inside the EU and the same rights transferred to UK law. Within the EU employment rights are guaranteed by treaty. Changing an EU treaty is hard to achieve - requiring agreement from all member states. Changing UK law requires a majority in the House of Commons - or just an Order in Council (a Minister’s decree) for some laws under the provisions of the withdrawal bill.

So outside the European Union rights are only guaranteed so long as the Government sticks to its word.

It should now be crystal clear that whatever the lame duck Prime Minister might say, other Conservatives don’t intend that the pledge on employment rights will last very long. At the launch of the new Think Tank led by Brexit extremist MEP, Daniel Hannan, ‘The Institute of Free Trade’ (IFT), both Boris Johnson and Hannan himself set out their vision of a Singapore-style, low-tax, low-regulation ‘offshore’ economy. In such an economy the rights of employees are rarely the number one priority.

The fact is on rolling back rights at work the Conservatives have form. One of their first acts after they took power in 2010, with the support of current Liberal Democrat leader, Vince Cable, was to remove protection from staff in post for less than two years. During their campaign to take the UK out of the EU, employment rights legislation was frequently listed among the ‘red tape’ constraining business that could be when outside the bloc.

It’s also worth remembering that the Conservatives fought tooth and nail to keep the UK opted out of the aspects of EU law that protect employment rights. Those rights were never forced on the UK by ‘Brussels’, but were eventually adopted by the UK as one of Labour’s manifesto promises at the 1997 General Election. TUC General Secretary, Francis O’Grady, recently pointed out that the immediate risk to employment rights is to those regulations that protect part-time and agency workers which are gradually chipped away by the Tories under the guise of cutting ‘red tape’.

A year of reassurances from Tory ministers that our rights in the workplace would be protected and enhanced. Theresa May said in her Lancaster House speech, that she would like to build “a fairer Britain is a country that protects and enhances the rights people have at work” but whether she means it or not we all know her days as Prime Minister are numbered. Her Party is in thrall of Brexit extremists like Mr Hannan, Jacob Reece-Mogg and Ian Duncan-Smith who are devoted to the ideology of the unfettered free-market. They have turned a very narrow referendum vote into an excuse for a ‘hard Brexit’ that they told voters wasn’t on the ballot and which this year’s general election rejected.

How long before the promises of guaranteed rights at work go the same way as Mr Hannan’s infamous claim that “nobody is talking about leaving the Single Market”?

Posted by John Howarth
EU Cities for Fair and Ethical Trade

EU Cities for Fair and Ethical Trade

The EU Cities for Fair and Ethical Trade Award provides a platform for towns and cities to showcase their work to promote Fair Trade and to exchange best practice and new ideas.

Towns and cities all over South East England have fair trade policies and elected councillors work hard with NGOs and community organisations both to project the issue and to implement practical steps to integrate fair trade products and practices in their communities.

Fair trade and linked aid can make a real difference to developing communities, redress the balance to provide greater equity in international trade. Fair trade organisations, NGOs and suppliers with ethical policies, backed by consumers support produces, help raise awareness and campaign for changes in the rules and practices of conventional international trade. The objective of fair trade supporters and politicians backing these campaigns is to mainstream fair trade practices, combat poverty and improve livelihoods. The changes brought about at European level have enabled local authorities and public bodies to specify fair trade requirements in public tenders and it is changes such as this that the award is intended to help promote.

I would strongly encourage local authorities in South East England to participate and have written to Labour local authority leaders to encourage them to do so.

You can find out more about the award here, more about the work of my colleague, Linda McAvan MEP who set up and Chairs the European Parliament’s Fair Trade Working Group here.

It is also worth saying that The Co-op, which has long been an integral part of the Labour and progressive movement, is the largest UK supplier of fair trade and ethically sourced products. So if you want to do something practical to help fair trade, get down your local Co-op and check out their range.



Posted by John Howarth