A short note on tax law for Rangers and Celtic fans

I write to explain a point of law that has occupied much of my twitter feed for the last couple of days. It may help to say that I am a Queen’s Counsel specialising in tax law. And I have no commercial or personal connection to Rangers (I use that name in a vernaculous rather than a legal sense) or its successor entities or (as far as I am aware) anyone connected with the club or those entities.

I have said that it is not accurate to describe Rangers’ use of EBTs as “illegal” or “unlawful”. And here is why.

You might think about the purpose of tax law as being to draw lines in the sand: fall on one side of the line and your liability will be (lower) x; fall on the other side and it will be (higher) y. Rangers entered into certain transactions which they hoped and (I understand) expected would attract liability x but which the Supreme Court decided attracted liability y. It is not “illegal” or “unlawful” to attract a higher liability than you want. And nor is it illegal or unlawful to transact to try and attract liability x but to fail and, nevertheless, to attract liability y.

We self-assess our liability to tax. Putting it another way, HMRC ask us questions in a self-assessment form, we answer them, and those answers have as their consequence that we owe a particular sum in tax. We also promise HMRC that we believe the answers are right.

If we give HMRC answers that lead to the conclusion that we owe x in tax and a court later says that our answers were wrong and we owe y in tax that does not establish, on its own, that we have behaved unlawfully or illegally. It is not unlawful or illegal to make an honest mistake.

If, in completing the self-assessment form, we gave answers that we did not believe to be right, we would have behaved unlawfully or illegally. But I am not aware of any evidence that Rangers gave answers in its self-assessment form that it did not believe to be right. And nor, so far as I am aware, is this an allegation that HMRC has advanced.

What about a situation where Rangers gave misleading answers to HMRC outside the self-assessment form? Certainly it would be very poor behaviour. And I can imagine circumstances in which this might be unlawful. But, on its own, this fact – if fact it is – does not enable the conclusion to be drawn that Rangers has broken any law.

Labour’s Hard Brexit

Some in Labour believe that the EU is a trojan horse wherein neoliberal values enter and lay waste to our socialist paradise.

Never mind that the UK is to the right of the EU. Never mind that that the world has changed since the 1960s but that belief has not. Never mind that the EU is a safeguard against the values of the Hard Right who fought and funded Brexit. Never mind that under the microscope of evidence the belief shrivels and dies.

Nevertheless. For that belief, Labour’s leadership will sacrifice the prospect of remaining in the EU, the opportunity to deliver a better Brexit in the Single Market, and the wishes of Labour’s membership.

And it does so believing that it will have no price to pay at the ballot box in 2022. Because by then Brexit will be done and you will have forgotten Labour’s betrayal.

Would you like to say to Labour, ‘I will not forget? Deliver a Brexit outside the Single Market and come what may I will not vote for you?

‘I will abstain. Or I will vote for an alternative. But in no world will I vote for you.’

It is important. The Tory Party is divided on Brexit. A Labour Party for the country – for the country and not an ideological relic – would split the Tories. Labour could deliver a better Brexit – or none at all.

Would you support a campaign? Would you publicly pledge: betray my future, deliver a Hard Brexit, and I will not vote for you?

Please vote in this poll:



A short response to Owen Jones

Here’s Owen Jones on why he “accepts the EU referendum result.” It’s a good piece, there is much to agree with.

But it is important to be clear on what “accepting the EU referendum result” actually means. Clearer than he is.

The result does dictate that that we leave the EU. It dictates that unless public opinion decisively turns. And that is why I have consistently said I would have voted to trigger Article 50.

But although the result was that we should leave the EU the result told us little about what that means. Theresa May took over six months to decide she wanted to leave the Single Market. And longer still to decide she wanted to leave the Customs Union. These were her choices. There are countries outside the EU but inside the Single Market and it is likely that the UK could leave the EU but remain in the Customs Union.

They are incredibly important choices for the future of our country. They were not dictated by the Referendum. They are choices made by our political leaders. If our leaders pretend they are dictates of the Referendum our leaders lie to us.

I wish Owen – writing on a day when Jeremy Corbyn pretended that leaving the EU meant we had to leave the Single Market – had not ignored these choices. What do you say to that pretence, Owen? What do you say to the choices Corbyn has made? And what do you say to the huge majority of Labour voters who disagree with them? What do you say to the majority of the electorate who would not sacrifice their economic health to restrict free movement?

There are other criticisms too. Perhaps the most important is this.

It demeans us to pretend the risks to democracy are one way. To pretend they run from ignoring the result but not from delivering it. To pretend it is without risk to democracy to promise there would be no downside to Brexit and then deliver inflation and falling real wages, weak economic growth or recession, disinvestment and prospective joblessness, weakened public finances with jeopardy to the NHS, a Hard Border in Ireland and the list goes on.

If your intention is to protect democracy you seek a path that acknowledges and limits these downsides. You do not pretend that the future of democracy involves giving the electorate what it was persuaded to vote for and giving it to them hard.

Finally, as I said above, the Referendum result is that we should have Brexit unless public opinion decisively turns. We must listen. If the electorate comes to think that what it wanted from Brexit it will not get from Brexit it must be heard. 

This is the only control on the dishonest conduct of a Referendum that our politics can offer. In a General Election you kick out a Government that breaks its Manifesto promises. But if the sanctity of a Referendum result survives both the lies told to deliver it and a public coming to understand it had been misled we have no functioning democracy at all.

So we must hope that Labour delivers its Manifesto promise on Parliament having a meaningful vote on the Final Deal. 

Owen was silent on this promise yesterday but to live the values his article espoused he must be vocal on it tomorrow. And Labour will not be able to deliver on that promise unless it amends Clause 1(1) of the Repeal Bill in the Autumn. Let us hope Labour, and Owen, protects democracy by fighting to deliver its Manifesto pledge.