At last it’s official, you can buy a knighthood by paying HMRC an undisclosed sum.
The taxman is becoming renowned for his efforts to recover taxes from those “customers” who get involved in allegedly dodgy scheming, even the relatively innocently such as David Beckham.
Apart from the very obvious, collecting the overdue taxes, the armoury extends to
- Naming and shaming
- Various registers of serial and serious tax avoiders
- A word in the ear of Her Majesty
While most industry professionals will have been aware of the first five points on the list above, it is the last one that hit the headlines in a big way this week following yet more email leaking to salacious websites.
It transpires that the only thing stopping Posh Spice’s husband from becoming Sir David Beckham was his involvement in what was probably a film tax scheme, which offended the powers that be in Somerset House or Parliament Street to the extent that that he was given a red flag, which at least makes a change from the occasional red card with which he was familiar in his playing days.
If a story in the Daily Mail is to be taken at face value, a man appointed to be one of Britain’s ambassadors to the last Olympic Games was offered the chance to backtrack and achieve ennoblement, if he paid a large sum to the Revenue.
In the best bulldog British spirit, not only did Mr Beckham, as he remains, turn down this valuable opportunity unlike so many donors to political parties who know the price of a gong, he went an unwise step or two further.
If avoiding taxes is a mistake when it comes to trying to get that small appendage to one’s name, giving titles to the members of The Honours Committee (which decides on such things) that might be mistaken for obscenities by those who understand such things is definitely an even bigger error.
While David Beckham’s behaviour in this matter has been naive and personally counter-productive, it does raise some bigger questions both about both the British honours system and our tax regime.
In a country where tax avoidance has been raised to an art form and is almost certainly practised by many who genuinely can call themselves “Sir” or “Lord”, there is a degree of hypocrisy in preventing someone who, applying current standards, is undoubtedly deserving of a knighthood, merely because he has been caught out doing what his peers (pun absolutely intended) are doing a little less obviously or publicly.
Indeed, there has to be a possibility that we would no longer need to think about reform of the House of Lords or many institutions in the city, if consistency was applied and titles removed as well as denied, where arguably legitimate tax avoidance was in point.
On the other hand, if people open themselves up to trouble by using arrangements that are at best controversial and at worst determined by the courts to be illegal, perhaps there is some justice if they suffer penalties that really hurt, rather than doing little more than paying back the taxes that they had avoided many years before.
This debate could run and run.