POLITICS

Osborne's Excuse For Not Releasing Ministers' Tax Returns Is 'Nonsense', Critics Say

20/01/2015 12:49 GMT | Updated 20/01/2015 12:59 GMT
Oli Scarff via Getty Images
MANCHESTER, ENGLAND - SEPTEMBER 30: Chancellor of the Exchequer George Osborne arrives to deliver his speech in the main hall on the second day of the Conservative Party Conference on September 30, 2013 in Manchester, England. Chancellor of the Exchequer George Osborne has unveiled a Government plan for long-term unemployed people to undertake work placements in order to receive their benefits. (Photo by Oli Scarff/Getty Images)

George Osborne has been ridiculed for insisting that the coalition has ditched its plans to publish ministers' tax returns in order to protect "taxpayer confidentiality".

Speaking to the Huffington Post UK, Lib Dem peer Brian Paddick has joined the Greens' Baroness Jenny Jones, who both published their tax returns during the 2012 London Mayoral election campaign, in mocking the chancellor's u-turn.

Lord Paddick said Osborne's explanation was "nonsense", adding: "I respect the right of taxpayer confidentiality, but if that individual waives the right to confidentiality, it would be the individual that publishes their returns, not HMRC, so it seems to me to be a completely false argument."

Baroness Jenny Jones, Green member of the London Assembly, said: “It’s quite hard to trust people who run the economy if they want to keep their own affairs secret, sitting prime minister or not.

"We need to understand that their actions and aims are as selfless as possible. There are too many politicians tied to corporate interests, who stand to financially benefit from privatisation and other policies.

"The people at the top need to set a transparent example to the rest. It’s time for Cameron, and the whole cabinet, to come clean on their tax returns.”

Baroness Jones managed to persuade her London mayoral rival contenders to publish their tax returns in order to end an ongoing tax avoidance row that dogged Labour's Ken Livingstone.

Jenny Jones dares her rivals to be open with their tax affairs

After Jones' challenge on Newsnight, Paddick agreed to publish his tax returns from the last three years "and let the public decide who is avoiding tax and who isn't".

The backlash against the coalition from the London Mayoral contenders is especially awkward as they have successfully published their returns, whereas Osborne has cited "quite a lot of practical difficulties" in order to drop his own plans.

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Speaking to the Sunday Times, Osborne has cooled on the idea, claiming: "There are genuine issues around taxpayer confidentiality and how it would work in practice.

"You see it as a feature of some American campaigns but I think there would be quite a lot of practical difficulties. There are no plans at this point. The income I receive is publicly declared."

This marked a contrast from 2012, when the prime minister signalled that he would be "relaxed" about publishing his personal tax returns, along with having other members of his cabinet do so, with it suggested that they could make an open declaration of their returns after the local elections that May. The idea reportedly had Lib Dem support, with Nick Clegg and Vince Cable suggesting they would be willing to disclose their tax affairs.

Osborne told the Daily Telegraph that April: "We are very happy to consider publishing tax returns for people seeking the highest offices in the land. Of course, they do it in America."

He added: "When it comes to publishing tax returns … personally, I don't set my face against it. But we have to think through the issues. You have to think through the advantages and disadvantages. We have got to think through the issue of taxpayer confidentiality, which is a very important principle in Britain."

Coalition ministers continued to remain supportive of the idea in 2013, with Cameron's spokesman still indicating that he would be 'relaxed" about the idea following a move by French president Francois Hollande to have his ministers publish details about their own tax affairs.

"The prime minister's view on whether he would be content to publish his arrangements and those of other ministers is that he would be relaxed about that," a spokesperson said.

See also:

Politician Tax Avoidance Controversies