Goodbye Britain

Jun 12 2006 by Brian Amble Print This Article

Unlike most individuals, companies are quite happy to up sticks and leave a country if they feel that its tax and regulatory regime is damaging their businesses.

As the Sunday Telegraph reported at the weekend, the growing aggression of the British tax authorities has persuaded a steady stream of UK-based companies to announce plans to move their tax domicile abroad.

Hiscox, one of the biggest Lloyd's insurers, hopes to shift its base to Bermuda for tax purposes. Catlin, one of Hiscox's rivals, has already done so, citing "the lighter touch" of Bermuda's regulatory regime and slashing two thirds from its tax bill as a result.

Meanwhile telecoms company Colt is transferring its tax domicile to mainland Europe while Royal Dutch Shell's tax residency is now in the Netherlands.

"A lot of our biggest businesses are now looking at whether they want to be domiciled here because of the tax system," says Sir Digby Jones, the director general of the CBI.

"They're looking instead at Holland, Ireland... Estonia, even. That was never on the radar screen before. I fear that the chancellor, in going after a few millions of extra tax, will lose the Exchequer billions by driving companies out of Britain."

In today's Times, meanwhile, William Rees-Mogg warms to a similar theme, pointing out that the great economic success of Ireland has been fuelled by a reduction in the rate of corporation tax to just 12.5 per cent compared to the UK's headline rate of 30 per cent Ė with large companies like Tesco saying that fully half of their profits end up in the hands of the government thanks to corporation tax, business rates and other taxes.

"Most politicians have little understanding of tax," Rees-Mogg writes. "They think it is easier to tax business because global businesses do not have votes. They do not realise that Ireland has found that lower tax rates produce higher yields."

Politicians, he adds, do not appear to understand that global businesses are free to arrange their tax affairs on a global basis. "International companies, by definition, earn their profits internationally. They can, by and large, choose to place their headquarters in a low-tax jurisdiction. For instance, in the Republic of Ireland."

As the Sunday Telegraph put it, "the serious long-term issue is how many companies will choose to leave Britain as a result of the increasingly punitive tax regime. "International business is like a flock of birds," says the chairman of one financial services group. "If you throw a stone they will disappear.

"As businesses we have a duty to place ourselves in a region that is not unduly expensive. And there are plenty of other places we can go."