David Cameron personally intervened to prevent EU transparency rules affecting offshore tax trusts despite warnings it could create a loophole for tax dodgers, it has emerged.
Mr Cameron wrote to the then-European Council president Herman van Rompuy, claiming that it was “clearly important we recognise the important differences between companies and trusts”.
“This means that the solution for addressing the potential misuse of companies, such as central public registries, may well not be appropriate generally,” the letter said, according to the Financial Times.
Judith Sargentini, the Dutch MEP who led the European Parliament’s work on the draft rules, told the newspaper she saw the UK’s call for different treatment for trusts as “a danger and a possible loophole.”
The revelation is likely to add to the pressure on Mr Cameron after the Panama Papers leak revealed his late father, Ian, had been the director of an offshore fund that allegedly paid no UK tax in 30 years.
The Government insisted Mr Cameron’s call for different treatment for trusts had been justified, but Labour’s shadow Treasury minister Richard Burgon said the story “completely undermines” Tory claims to be determined to act on tax avoidance.
day and another story emerges which exposes what the Conservative Party really thinks in its heart of hearts about tackling tax avoidance.
“The Prime Minister can’t raise a finger to save our steel industry but at the drop of a hat he can personally intervene to undermine EU efforts to clamp down on tax avoidance.
“When things like this come out from the very top of the Conservative Party it completely undermines anything they have said previously on this major issue.
“It’s time that they treated tax avoidance as the serious matter people across Britain know it is. And one way they can do that is to stop trying to block or undermine measures which would help to tackle it.”
Asked about questions over the Prime Minister’s finances on BBC Radio 4’s Today programme, Defence Secretary Michael Fallon said he did not think “anything more that can be added” to Downing Street’s previous statements.
“These questions were honestly answered from the beginning…he made it very clear he is not benefitting from any offshore trust of this kind.”
Challenged byToday programme host John Humphrys on whether Mr Cameron had benefitted in the past, he added: “He’s already answered these questions. He may not have answered them to your satisfaction but these questions have been answered and I’ve nothing more to add to them.”
A Government spokesman said Mr Cameron’s stance was taken because of concerns that seeking to apply to true “beneficial” owner registers to trusts “would distract from action against those areas of most concern, such as shell companies”.
“In practice, these further changes weren’t achievable. In the subsequent negotiations, we were able to secure a sensible way forward which ensures that trusts which generate tax consequences have to report their ownership to HMRC.”
The spokesman defended the Government’s record on tackling tax evasion and avoidance – including legislation forcing British companies to disclose who owns and benefits from their activities which comes into force in June.
In the latest of a series of clarifications of Mr Cameron’s tax arrangements, Number 10 insisted that neither the PM, his wife Samantha or their children would benefit in the future from offshore funds or trusts.
Labour, however, is still demanding to know however whether they have benefited previously from the arrangement – although there is no suggestion that having done so would have been illegal.
Conservative ministers have, however, insisted that the Government has led the way in fighting tax avoidance, claiming that Mr Cameron has championed a transparency agenda, since at least 2013 when, ahead of a G8 summit, he promised: “I’m going to push for international agreements to fight the scourge of tax evasion and aggressive tax avoidance. That means automatic exchange of information between our tax authorities – so those who to evade tax have nowhere to hide.”
Mr Cameron, though, has faced criticism for failing to secure reforms in all but two of the UK’s overseas territories and Crown Dependencies, which see would see major beneficiaries of offshore companies named in public registers.