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Forget Bermuda & look at the 'legal' tax avoidance within the EU

Brexit negotiations resume this week with the UK government reportedly going to cave in to a bill of EUR60 billion in exchange for a trade deal, their not having worked out how detrimental the current trade deal is to the UK.

Over and above the £30 billion per annum net cost to the UK exchequer of providing public services to the 3.6 million EU economic migrants in the UK now (£10,500 per head less the direct taxes collected from their employers and from their wages), we have the avoidance of corporation tax on the grand scale enabled firstly by the exploitation of the Freedom of Establishment, and secondly by the beneficial tax regimes instituted by certain EU member states to attract high-value jobs to themselves.

The UK has experienced the reverse side of that coin and also on the grand scale: "commissionaire sales structure models" where all UK sales are booked out of Ireland or Luxembourg, and the UK sales subsidiary receives just enough commission to cover its costs. The UK is one of the victim countries in these structures: its physical and educational infrastructure creates a market for the service, but the service provider contributed nothing to the creation of that infrastructure and contributes nothing to its maintenance.

In fact the victim country - or rather its taxpayers - provide an ongoing subsidy to the service provider and to its workforce.

Freedom of Establishment connects with Freedom of Movement here and not in a good way for the UK exchequer, because these are the typical business models that are heavy on burger-flipping jobs in the victim countries: low-wage, low-skill, low-tax. 95% of the new jobs created in the UK since 2010 fall into this category. The government's National Labour Survey has also highlighted the overlap between these types of new job and the filling of them by EU economic migrants.

As the coalition government 2010-2015 and the Conservative one since 2015 have made such a big deal of the increase in both GDP and numbers of people in employment, they will find it hard to admit themselves that the UK would be wealthier without those jobs and GDP growth, as they have occurred within a set of wealth-transfer schemes concocted by multinationals, tax advisers and other EU member states.

The wealth transfer has been out of the UK and its taxpayers and into the pockets of these other 'economic actors'.

One of the key points in domestic Irish tax legislation - which is why so many tech and biotech companies set up there - is the asymmetric treatment of investments in Intellectual Property and the tax allowances available against them. Normally the allowance is limited to the amount invested, but in Ireland all revenues received that can be attributed to an IP investment made in Ireland are sheltered from the main 12 1/2% corporation tax (low as that already is) and are taxed at a marginal rate of nearer 3%.

Post-tax profits can then be remitted outside the EU without withholding tax thanks to the many Double Taxation Treaties that Ireland has negotiated with non-EU countries.

Luxembourg's stock-in-trade is enabling a European headquarters company that charges out huge management fees to group companies, which are tax-deductible by those group companies against their domestic corporation tax at rates of 20-30%, and are taxed in Luxembourg at a dizzy rate of 1/2% to 1%, after allowances, incentives and other 'economic actions'.

The size of the charges should be challenged by revenue authorities examining the tax returns of the group companies, but without the cooperation of the Luxembourg authorities, no case of over-invoicing can be brought - and of course that cooperation is not forthcoming.

Luxembourg does not have a big network of Double Double Taxation Treaties with non-EU countries, so that is where the Netherlands comes into play, who do. Netherlands establishes a parent company above the European headquarters company, so the latter dividends the European profits to the former, who then upstream them to Bermuda, Cayman or wherever.

Netherlands acts as a linking player in many structures, not necessarily as the lead player. Playing middleman is an old profession, familiar enough in terms of levying duties for transhipment rights on goods passing into and out of the Rhine, Meuse or Schelde. In this case the 'goods' are dematerialised - it's money - but the familiar methods of taking 1/8% off the top in both directions have stood the test of time.

This is all laid out in my Brexit Papers No 5, 6 and 7 available at

Under the EU "trade deal" in place at present, the UK loses out by at least £12 billion per annum in corporation tax. Indeed when the papers were written, the above figure was derived from the UK sales of the top 10 users of these structures just in the IT sector and just in Ireland. The assumed percentage of their global sales that were made into the UK was too low, because several of the companies do not trade in China at all.

£12 billion per annum is low end even for the IT sector in Ireland, and then one has to add all the other users sectors in Ireland, and all users in Luxembourg and the Netherlands.

On top of that you have all the graduate level jobs being created, and the associated expenditure made, all of it in these smaller EU member states, at the direct expense of the larger ones.

This sort of trade deal is one that the UK voters elected to step out of. It is anathema that we should agree to allow Freedom of Establishment to continue to be exploited against us in the same way it is now. It is beyond rational belief that we should go a step further and actually pay up for the privilege of continuing to be exploited, pay up a large amount, and pay to the benefit of the countries who are exploiting us.

That really would be regarded by Brexit voters as a stab in the back by those charged with representing our interests.


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