‘Creating an onshore nation is the only way to restore financial sovereignty,’ writes William Brittain-Catlin in the Guardian. ‘We must renounce and turn away multi-national corporations that funnel their profits to offshore accounts.’
”Protests by UK Uncut against Top Shop and Vodafone demonstrate justified anger against these and other clients of tax havens whose lawful tax avoidance makes a mockery of those stranded onshore in a rapidly disintegrating and impoverished social and public sphere.
The protests bring the issue of tax justice to the frontline of domestic politics and that is to be welcomed. But exposing the practices of corporations and finance and their dealings offshore will not in itself bring about change, for we are dealing with a much larger economic system – offshore capitalism – in which national governments can do little to challenge corporate and financial power secured offshore.
On a conservative estimate, a third of the world's wealth is held offshore, with 80% of international banking transactions taking place there. More than half the capital in the world's stock exchanges is "parked" offshore at some point. The offshore aspect of the global economy is far from marginal; to a large extent it has captured any significant onshore economic activity that remains.
This is the reality that national governments face; it is not hard to see how impossible a task it is for government to function in these circumstances, and it explains why governments have little option but to bend to the demands of corporate and financial power. Unless they do, corporations and banks just move to the next square on the chequer board of their offshore game, and the national treasury suffers.
To deliver ourselves from the hold of offshore capitalism, the practices of tax evasion and avoidance, the dreadful risks to economies from the vagaries of offshore finance and shadow banking, it is not a case of simply "outlawing" or "banning" offshore finance centres and tax havens, as if these places could conveniently vanish into thin air at the click of national governments' fingers. The political option to do this was probably lost some 40 or 50 years ago. To see it as viable today is simply out of step with the economic times we live in.
What we have to do is renounce and turn away from the offshore world and make the decisive and final break with all those whose tentacles reach and touch the subterranean network of tax havens and offshore finance. As individuals, corporations and finance have detached themselves from their home countries and gone offshore and global, progressive nations must now play the trump card of their own sovereignty and disengage themselves from the offshore world that drives on global capitalism so perilously.
Governments of progressive nations should leave offshore tax havens and their clients to their own devices, and instead boldly declare that they will refuse to have on their soil any corporation, individual, financial entity or transaction that has an offshore connection through which profits (as well as toxic, hidden losses) are funnelled away to third party jurisdictions.
Onshore you're in, offshore you're out, simple as that. And let us subject every company and individual to the onshore test: a rigorous due diligence investigation to make sure that there is absolutely no offshore tax haven link to any company or person that wishes to use the onshore nation as place to do business in. Those that pass the onshore test will then be welcomed to join in and establish the new order.
So, Boots, renounce your new offshore base in Zug and return home to Nottingham. Likewise Cadbury's, another newly arrived Swiss resident – we want you back here again, so please have your new owner Kraft relinquish their offshore links. Ladbrokes and William Hill – come off your offshore perch in Gibraltar and properly return to our high streets. Vodafone, Barclays – and all the other "British" multi-national corporations and banks out there – relinquish your offshore networks and make your home in the UK and in any other nation across the world that embraces the new onshore model of economics.
But the quid pro quo for establishing the onshore nation brings with it realistic, hard choices that some may find unpalatable. If we want those companies and individuals that have only ever known the offshore world to commit and engage to the onshore nation, we will have to revolutionise onshore tax systems and make them competitive with what firms have managed for themselves by stealth, secrecy and guile in the offshore world.
There will be no hiding place for profits and asset ownership in the onshore economy but neither will there be a return to the high-tax model of the state, a model continuously degraded and made impossible by constant trade-offs with businesses to keep them from fleeing offshore and which, in its ultimate tolerance of offshore practices, led to the rise of shadow banking, the financial crisis and the near bankruptcy we are now mired in.
The journey that nations must make onshore is only just beginning. The imperative to do so is only just impinging on public consciousness. The ethical case for coming onshore – as with other global issues like climate change and human rights – needs to be built on facts and made time and time again through campaigns, action and education. That is why the protests by UK Uncut are a significant step in the right direction; only a year ago the issue of tax avoidance and the dry, technical facts around it, hardly seemed the stuff of something to rally around. Now that is changing and the journey has begun.
In the onshore nation, democratic governments and their citizens will finally be able to assert fair and proper authority over corporations and finance that have for half a century or more detached themselves from the solid ground from where their business derives, causing all manner of systemic problems in the global economy. The onshore nation is not anti-corporate, anti-globalisation or indeed necessarily even anti-tax haven; it just realises that if politics is to have the power of change, a nation must be able to determine its own path in the world.”
William Brittain-Catlin is a corporate investigator and the author of Offshore: The Dark Side of the Global Economy