LABOUR has kept up the pressure in the row over tax avoidance with the Prime Minister accused of taking a “partial” view of the issue in his criticism of comedian Jimmy Carr.
As Carr issued a fulsome apology yesterday, David Cameron was challenged over why he had singled out the comedian when other high-profile figures were also said to be benefiting from schemes reportedly used to shelter millions from the Exchequer.
The Prime Minister refused to condemn Gary Barlow after shadow Commons leader Angela Eagle questioned why the alleged tax dodging of the Take That star, who was awarded an OBE last week, had not also been branded “morally repugnant”.
The challenge came after Downing Street confirmed Mr Cameron and senior Ministers were not planning to disclose their tax returns in the “very near future”, a move which had been suggested by the Prime Minister in April amid controversy over the Budget decision to reduce the 50p top tax rate and which had led critics to question whether senior politicians were paying their fair share.
Jimmy Carr admits the row was “entirely my fault” on his television show 8 Out Of 10 Cats tonight.
Carr presents the Channel 4 comedy panel game for the first time since the news broke. His fellow panellists tease him mercilessly about his domination of the headlines this week, with team captain Sean Lock telling him: “We all like to put a bit of money away for a rainy day, don’t we? But I think you’re more prepared than Noah.”
When he heard Carr was on the front pages of newspapers, Lock joked that he feared much worse.
He said: “I was expecting to see one of those white police tents in the background and a copper holding a laptop in a see-through carrier bag.”
Carr replied: “I’ve been dishing it out for years, it’s about time I got some.”
And he went on: “I hate to sound like I’m passing the buck, but I’ll tell you who I blame for this whole mess - me. It’s entirely my fault.”
In the Commons, Ms Eagle said: “Oddly, [Mr Cameron] did not take the opportunity to condemn as morally repugnant the tax avoidance scheme used by Conservative supporter Gary Barlow, who has given a whole new meaning to the phrase Take That.
“If he is also morally repugnant, why has he been given an OBE in the Birthday Honours?”
Barlow, his bandmates Howard Donald and Mark Owen, and manager Jonathan Wild, are reported to have invested at least £26m in an alleged tax avoidance scheme run by Icebreaker Management Services.
Icebreaker maintains it works within the law, but HM Revenue and Customs has already successfully challenged one of its schemes at a tribunal and is preparing to litigate another.
Ms Eagle also questioned Topshop boss Sir Philip Green’s appointment as a Government efficiency adviser after allegations of tax avoidance surrounding his Arcadia Group retail empire prompted high-profile protests by campaign group UK Uncut.
At a Downing Street Press conference last night, Mr Cameron said: “I am not going to give a running commentary on different people’s tax affairs. I don’t think that would be right.
“I made an exception yesterday because it was a very specific case where the details seemed to have been published and it was a particularly egregious example of an avoidance scheme that seemed to me to be wrong and I made that point.”
Speaking during a visit to Mexico on Wednesday, the Prime Minister had said it was unfair that Carr did not pay his tax in the same way as the people who pay to watch him.
The comic publicly repented yesterday following Tuesday’s revelation that he used a legal offshore scheme to shelter a reported £3.3m a year from the taxman.
He admitted making “a terrible error of judgement” in using the Jersey-based K2 scheme, which enables members to pay income tax rates as low as one per cent.
“I met with a financial adviser and he said to me ‘Do you want to pay less tax? It’s totally legal’. I said ‘Yes’. I now realise I’ve made a terrible error of judgement,” he said. “Although I’ve been advised the K2 Tax scheme is entirely legal, and has been fully disclosed to HMRC, I’m no longer involved in it.”
A new rule is set to be introduced from next April to tackle “abusive” tax avoidance schemes.
Tom Roseff, senior tax manager at Saffery Champness chartered accountants in Harrogate, said it was likely to represent a “blunt stick” to allow HMRC to block such schemes in future.