is a new entry this year
Jolyon Maugham has been running his outspoken blog,
Waiting for Tax, since July 2013, but has seen its
popularity within and outside of the tax sphere increase
substantially during the past 18 months. He has since been
invited to write for various British media outlets including
The Times, Financial Times,
Guardian, New Statesman and Tax
Journal, as well as appearing on the BBC and
Channel 4. He is also influential on Twitter, tweeting
International Tax Review spoke to Maugham about his
tax blog and opinion on recent developments.
Review: Who are you
targeting with your blog posts?
Jolyon Maugham: Lots of writers write to autotherapise.
Sometimes I do, but usually it's because I want to shift the
public debate in a particular field that I'm interested in.
Usually I'm writing for policymakers or journalists, but the
number of hits I get tends to suggest that I am read more
But, absolutely, the public is very, very interested in tax.
I think what they lack, what they are not very often given, is
writing that is of a sufficient quality to introduce them to
the issues in a way in which they find interesting and
You don't want to be some kind of foie-gras duck,
you don't want this stuff forced down you, but if people can
tell the story in an interesting and engaging way and get to
the heart of the policy question, the evidence suggests people
want to read that.
ITR: So more of an
JM: Yes, I think that is right. People have to choose to go
and eat the grain.
ITR: You have talked
about the 'message' that you are trying to get across. What do
you think – if I can ask you to distil it into
something duck-friendly – is your
JM: I guess what I don't like is cant and hypocrisy. I'm
quite English in that way. If people are prepared to be evil
and be frank about it, then they will be punished or rewarded
as the public sees fit. But there are so many areas of modern
life that are very obscure – you need a real technical
understanding to be able to understand what's really going on.
And that creates opportunities for individuals, businesses and
the government to lie about what they do without being seen to.
I think it's important to expose it when they do because the
underlying issues are often quite profoundly important.
ITR: Considering your
enjoyment in exposing lies on big issues, what "assurances" do
you think the UK government gave car manufacturer Nissan ahead
of the company agreeing to extend production at its factory in
Sunderland, north-east England?
JM: Well. I find the notion that Nissan will have made very
significant investment decisions based on comforting noises and
kind words from government implausible. The government's
reluctance even to give the letter to the Office for Budget
Responsibility doesn't exactly dissuade me from that view.
Of course, the government hopes that it will do a sectorial
deal for the car industry that will mean there is no additional
cost attached to Nissan manufacturing in the UK. But Nissan has
no control over whether or not the government will deliver
that, all Nissan can do is express, as it did, concern about
what Brexit would mean and it must have received assurances
from the government – bankable assurances–
that it would not be materially affected.
So government is – although we don't know how
– underwriting Nissan's risks of carrying on
manufacturing in the UK, and even if those implicit or explicit
assurances that government has underwritten don't come to pass;
even if we do remain in the [European] single market or there
is no new tariff or non-tariff impediment to Nissan accessing
the single market; the fact of the government guarantee is
itself a transfer of value from us to Nissan.
ITR: Following Nissan, we
now see pharmaceutical companies queuing up for deals, and
agriculture – although that is slightly different
because of the subsidies the industry used to get from the
JM: It does seem implausible that banks will not figure in
the government's thinking, given what enormous net contributors
they are to our tax revenues. So it's not easy to see where
this process stops.
All of these things that we are now offering, with very
substantial price tags attached to them, pre-Brexit we did not
need to offer at all.
You're pretty concerned if you're a manufacturer about all
sorts of consequences of Brexit. Tariffs are going to be major
issues for higher-value, lower-margin sectors of the economy.
Non-tariff barriers such as the enormous increase in red tape
that will result from us being outside the customs union is
going to be a concern to everybody.
I'm not yet persuaded that it is better red tape because it
is our red tape. Certainly putting myself into the shoes of a
businessman or woman I am more interested in the quantity of
red tape rather than whether it's English red tape or 'nasty,
foreign red tape'.