James Cleverly welcomes Government efforts to keep international businesses in the UK

James Cleverly speaking in the House of CommonsJames Cleverly highlights Government success at reducing the gap between taxes that should be collected and the taxes that are collected which has resulted in an additional £160 billion of tax revenue since 2010 and applauds efforts to ensure international business people and non-domiciles remain in the UK post-Brexit.

James Cleverly (Braintree) (Con) 
As I am sure you agree, Mr Speaker, we all love a familiar tune that we can hum or whistle along to, the bars and notes of ​which come effortlessly to mind, so I imagine that a warm feeling of familiarity washed over all Members when they heard the tune being played by the Labour Front Bencher, the hon. Member for Bootle (Peter Dowd). It was the familiar one about the Conservatives not taking tax seriously, being on the side of tax dodgers and so on. We have heard it so many times.

It is nice to see the hon. Gentleman using this gargantuan Finance Bill as a stage from which to play that tune. It brought to mind that wonderful 1970s Morecambe and Wise sketch with André Previn; I do not know whether you are familiar with it, Mr Speaker. Eric Morecambe is at the piano; discordant notes are flooding from it, and André Previn says, “Stop, stop! You’re playing all the wrong notes.” Eric Morecambe replies, “No, sweetheart; I’m playing all the right notes, but not necessarily in the right order.” That was an awful accent; I apologise. The hon. Gentleman was not playing the right notes, and definitely not in the right order. Some of the claims made by Labour Front Benchers are built on sand. Far from being on the side of tax dodgers and tax avoiders, this party in government has put measures in place that have generated an additional £160 billion of tax revenue since 2010, and the Bill will, if enacted, bring in additional billions of pounds to the Treasury, so the hon. Gentleman was singing the wrong notes.

Yes, moves to close the tax gap were initiated by a Labour Government—it would be churlish not to concede that—but far from preventing or rowing back on the closing of the tax gap, this Government have continued the pressure to make sure that the gap between the taxes that should be collected and the taxes that are collected continues to decrease. As a Conservative, I am proud of this Conservative Government’s role in ensuring that the people who should pay taxes do, and pay at the appropriate level.

My right hon. Friend the Member for Wokingham (John Redwood) was absolutely spot on when he said that it is corrosive when we start blurring the definitions of tax avoidance and tax evasion. When we talk about people who act in a financially pragmatic way, completely within the law, in the same way that we talk about conmen and criminals, it sends a massively corrosive message, at a time when the world is getting smaller, in terms of where people can base themselves and their business.

While it is perhaps fun for Opposition Members to vilify people who transact their business internationally and can choose where in the world to rest their head at night, and to make them sound like—to be topical—a Halloween villain, that is counterproductive. Although each individual utterance will make little difference, they combine and build to create the background music of intolerance of international business and successful people that will ultimately mean their locating somewhere else. Rather than getting the tax income from them that this country deserves, a different country will generate those tax revenues. A pound—or a euro or dollar—that is taxed somewhere else in the world is a pound that cannot be used by this Government to pay for the public services that we value and the public servants who deserve our thanks and reward.

It may feel superficially pleasant to see an international business, an international business person or a non-domicile flee from these shores. People may say, “If they do not ​want to be here, let them go”. It is a nice soundbite but ultimately it is massively counter-productive to the job that we should be doing as parliamentarians and that the Government should be doing in office.

Anna Soubry (Broxtowe) (Con) 
I am enjoying the very good speech that my hon. Friend is making. Obviously, I do not want to get into a Brexit debate. Heaven forbid that he and I fall out in some way, or even worse do our impersonations of bygone sketches, which he clearly could not remember because he was not born then but, on a serious point, does he share my concern that we are already seeing great businesses looking at relocating as the time comes for us to leave the EU, along with individuals who do not feel welcome in our great country?

James Cleverly 
I thank my right hon. Friend for her intervention. We may not necessarily agree on the Brexit decision or on its impact on international businesses and British businesses that might be international, but it is fair for her to highlight the fact that we should do nothing that gives businesses cause for concern. It would be unfair to suggest that the decision to leave the EU has no impact on business decisions. As someone who campaigned for Brexit, I have an additional duty to prove her wrong. I know that she is of such a generous nature that, if in our dotage we are sharing a glass of wine, looking back at the events in the immediate aftermath of Brexit and I were to be proved right, she would be more than willing to concede that point. However, we have a duty to give businesses as much confidence as possible about being based in the UK. Having a tax regime that supports business and enterprise is an important part of doing that. 

Charlie Elphicke 
Does my hon. Friend agree that the Bank of England and the Treasury have a duty to talk this country up, not talk it down, and to ensure that, when they talk about investment versus disinvestment, they do not make up terrible numbers, as a continuity of project fear, when the Bank said that Brexit would mean a loss of jobs, growth and tax revenue, particularly non-domicile tax revenue? We have seen that that is not the case, with the lowest unemployment for 40 years and continued strong growth. It is wrong for the Bank to carry on saying such things, as it has today.

James Cleverly 
I will be more than happy to invite Treasury officials and Mark Carney to the end of days party that it seems I will be throwing for my hon. Friend and my right hon. Friend the Member for Broxtowe (Anna Soubry). We can sit down to discuss such things, sharing my beautifully aged claret—[Interruption.]. Or indeed some wine from the constituency of my hon. Friend the Member for Wealden (Ms Ghani), which produces some fantastic wine. We will discuss the implications for the British economy of fear-mongering.

Vicky Ford 
We are debating a new clause that suggests that, within 15 months of passing the Bill, there should be another review. Fifteen months would be February 2019, a month before Brexit. Financial services companies are already having to rethink their operations to cope with Brexit. Does my hon. Friend agree that the new clause is a distraction that the sector does not need and that the sector contributes more than £70 billion in tax to the UK economy, which we want to keep?​

2.15 pm

James Cleverly 
My hon. Friend is spot on. I cannot help but think that new clause 1 is more to do with Labour Members feeling that they need to table revised clauses because they do not know what to say. A call for a review of this kind invariably occurs when people are not sure what to say.

Mr Speaker, you will be disheartened to hear that I am about to conclude my comments. I strongly urge Members on both sides of the House to reject the new clause. We should do everything we can to send a positive message to businesses currently in the UK, to businesses that may think about coming to the UK and to business people who are deciding where they will domicile and to pay tax. We need to let them know that the UK is open, ready to do business and welcomes business people, as long as they pay their fair share in tax and help to support the public services that we value.

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