In a week when the Prime Minister, Mayor of London and Jeremy Corbyn have all made their tax returns public, Croydon South MP Chris Philp has called for privacy for public figures. WALTER CRONXITE reports on why the Commons new boy might be so coy about his own tax affairs
Chris Philp, who stood for election to become Croydon South’s Conservative MP only last year, says that what he does in his own business and tax affairs should be kept strictly private.That puts Philp out of step with his own Tory party colleagues, including “Dodgy” Dave Cameron, Mayor of London Boris Johnson and even the far-from-modern Jacob Rees-Mogg.
Like Philp, Rees-Mogg is a Tory member of the influential Treasury Select Committee at Westminster.
But despite his party colleagues embracing the move to openness and transparency, Philp thinks that they are all wrong, including his party leader, the Prime Minister. “Where do you draw the line?” Philp has simpered this week over calls for greater transparency over the tax affairs of public figures, especially elected ones who actively seek public office, such as MPs.
It seems rather odd that Philp should be so set against those who are responsible for making laws about the nation’s taxes also being transparent about their own tax affairs. This is expecially the case given Philp’s position on the Treasury Select Committee, which has responsibility for scrutinising important matters relating to the raising of tax, as well as the avoidance and evasion of tax.
Commons new boy Philp’s performances at the Treasury Select Committee have already drawn unfavourable comments from those in the press gallery, who described his arslikhan posture when supposedly subjecting Chancellor Gideon Osborne to scrutiny as “toadying”, demonstrating that “brown-nosing is first, second and third nature” to him.
So given such craven obsequiousness to his Tory leadership, why might Philp be so reluctant to follow their lead on matters of tax transparency now?
Earlier this week, Rees-Mogg said on national radio that he would be publishing his own tax returns and that he thought all MPs should feel compelled to do likewise.
Philp feels no such compulsion. “Do you need to see someone’s tax returns before you trust them?” he has said.
So we have decided to ask Inside Croydon‘s loyal reader whether they need to see Philp’s tax returns in order to trust him.
And there’s a good reason to ask questions about Philp’s business affairs.
Philp is a self-made millionaire, his fortune derived from property deals around the world.
Inside Croydon flagged up last year, before Philp was elected, how his personal business interests, as the co-founder and partner of Pluto Finance, might not always coincide with the interests of the majority of his constituents. Indeed, there’s a strong possibility that Philp’s business interests may present the MP with a conflict over his public responsibilities.
One way of Philp’s Croydon constituents being able to judge that is through having sight of his tax records.
Philp’s Pluto Finance has been involved with developments across the capital, some of which contain some social housing. Pluto has even provided finance for a get-rich-quick office-to-residential scheme elsewhere in Croydon.
Now while Philp appears to have reduced his involvement with Pluto since his election to parliament, he remains a director. More than that is hard to say, because of the way the business is structured. Pluto is registered as a LLP, a form of partnership, and one which is tax-transparent, that is to say it pays no Corporation Tax or Capital Gains Tax. Instead, LLP income or surpluses are distributed gross to its partners as self-employed persons. Partners receiving income from an LLP are liable for their own taxation.
This is not getting us into Panama Papers territory over matters of “off-shoring”, reduced liabilities and tax avoidance, as have been making the national headlines for the past week or so, but it does go a long way to offer a possible explanation for Philp’s apparent coyness over transparency of his own tax affairs.For if Philp were to publish his returns, his constituents could get a much better idea of which jurisdiction this member of the Treasury Select Committee uses for his own tax affairs.
“If the public is worried then there’s already a register of members’ interests,” Philp has said, oozing disingenuity.
For Philp knows that the Parliamentary register does not require MPs to reveal any shareholdings that happen to fall below 15 per cent of a company’s share capital or an arbitrary £70,000 threshold, including investments held overseas.
Therefore, it is possible than an MP could hold extensive interests in businesses without their constituents’ knowledge. It is something which Cameron acknowledged when he released his own tax returns.
So this week, we sent a set of questions to Philp. We asked him, in the interests of transparency and openness:
- Jacob Rees-Mogg, another Conservative MP on the Treasury Select Committee, said on the BBC Radio 4 Today programme on Monday that he would be publishing his own tax returns in the interests of transparency and that he thought that all MPs would soon be in a position where they felt compelled to do the same. Given Treasury Select Committee members’ involvement with taxation policy, do you agree?
- Many MPs and commentators have said that the register of members interests should record all shareholdings or units held by MPs, including those held outside UK jurisdiction. What is your view?
- Are you personally in a position to reassure your hard-working, tax-paying constituents that you personally have not, do not and will not benefit from off-shore funds, trusts or accounts designed to avoid UK tax?
- Paul Staines has published the fact that one of the fund managers of the Parliamentary Contributory Pension Scheme, Blackrock UK Property Fund, is domiciled offshore in Jersey. Is this correct?
- Is that the same Blackrock UK Property Fund from which your own firm, Pluto, has derived funding?
- If this is the case, can you please explain how this does not constitute a conflict of interest for a member of the Treasury Select Committee to derive business benefit from funds originating from offshore tax havens?
- Can you confirm that you voluntarily sought public office, by election as an MP, and were never coerced to do so?
We’re still waiting for a reply.
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