As identified on the Bad Boys of Brexit website, ultra-wealthy people with offshore interests and ideological objections to a fair tax system played a key role in the Leave campaign. No surprise, then, to find the self-styled TaxPayers’ Alliance (TPA) lobbying hard for Brexit to be used to ensure that the burden of taxation is shifted to the ‘little people’ and away from so-called ‘wealth creators’.
In spite of the TPA’s determination to ensure transparency for funding of elected politicians, the ‘Who Funds You?’ website was unable to find any information at all about TPA’s budget or where its funding comes from.
Like many of the pressure groups that are shaping the UK post-Brexit, the TPA has close links with similar right-wing organisations across the Atlantic. In 2010 it hosted an event sponsored by the US Tea Party organisation, in many ways the forerunner of Trump’s political movement. Funding was also provided by the Americans for Prosperity Foundation (to which the far-right Koch brothers are major donors), the Cato Institute and the Heritage Foundation. Like the IEA, the TPA is a member of the Atlas Network.
The TaxPayers’ Alliance was set up by Matthew Elliott, who left it to become CEO of Vote Leave. The limited information uncovered by the Powerbase project suggests that many of TPA’s backers are Eurosceptic businessmen. These include Patrick Barbour, who gave £500,000 to Vote Leave, the spread-betting tycoon Stuart Wheeler (who is also a major donor to UKIP and who famously took the Government to the High Court to challenge Gordon Brown’s decision to ratify the Lisbon Treaty without holding a public vote), and Rocco Forte, who is also on the advisory group of Economists for Free Trade and a supporter of the Bruges Group. Given their clear entanglement with other pro-Brexit organisations, their public statement of neutrality on Brexit was disingenuous, to put it politely.
By 5th July 2016, the TPA were ready with their plans for how the UK’s tax regime should change after Brexit. These included:
- Cutting Corporation Tax to 10%
- Scrapping the 45p rate of Income Tax
- A temporary VAT cut to 17.5%, with a review after one year
Straying significantly from their remit but backing up the work of other hard Brexit-supporting organisations, they also called for the government to secure ‘high-quality recruits to begin worldwide trade negotiations’.
The TaxPayers’ Alliance’s funding has attracted unwelcome attention from the Charity Commission. In 2015, Matthew Elliott fell foul of the Commission when the Politics and Economics Research Trust (Pert), a ‘research’ organisation with charitable status that he had set up, gave more than 90 per cent of its funding to the Taxpayers’ Alliance in its first two years, according to a report from the Charity Commission.
A letter from a Labour MP went further, claiming that The Politics and Economics Research Trust (Pert) gave 97% of its grants last year to groups who favour Brexit. According to a Guardian investigation:
‘Charities are not legally allowed to exist for a political purpose. Of £532,000 the charity paid out in grants in 2014, £300,000 went to the TaxPayers’ Alliance and £205,000 to Business for Britain, both of which are Eurosceptic. £10,000 went to Global Britain, which has campaigned for Brexit. In 2013 the charity gave £415,000 to the TaxPayers’ Alliance and Business for Britain.’
Ironically for a ‘charity’ that donated a significant sum to an organisation that was supposedly concerned about fair taxation, it appears that the purpose of establishing the Pert ‘charity’ was entirely to benefit from gift aid. The Politics and Economics Research Trust claimed more than £58,000 in gift aid in 2013.
Matthew Elliott’s cavalier approach to funding followed him to Vote Leave, which in July 2018 was found by the Electoral Commission to have committed serious breaches of the law around political funding while he was its director.
Rather than being an organisation focused on supporting ordinary taxpayers, the TPA is a key part of a network of pro-business, Eurosceptic organisations that share a hard-right worldview, swap personnel and have little interest in the common good of our country.
The merry-go-round of staff between TPA, Business for Britain, the IEA and now BrexitCentral makes the connections between these organisations very clear. Take Jonathan Isaby, for instance, who moved from ConservativeHome to the TaxPayers’ Alliance in 2011 and on to BrexitCentral in August 2016. Or the current chief executive of the TPA, John O’Connell, who previously worked for the Atlas Network established by Antony Fisher – who also set up the IEA.
In another staff-swapping incident, the former political director of the TaxPayers’ Alliance, Dia Chakravarty, was appointed Brexit Editor of the Telegraph in July 2018. She had not previously worked as a journalist but as a tax consultant before moving into PR.
The most public face of the TaxPayers’ Alliance is Chloe Westley, a frequent guest on the political panels such as the BBC’s Question Time. Westley was also head of social media for Vote Leave and, following the Brexit referendum, one of the founders of ‘Change Britain’, which describes itself as ‘a grassroots organisation set up to deliver the result that millions voted for’.
The Vote Leave whistleblower Shahmir Sanni has sued the TPA for unfair dismissal, claiming he was fired for going public with concerns about illegal behaviour at the official Brexit campaign. In a letter to Sanni, the TPA claimed his whistleblowing activities had brought ‘negative attention … and adverse publicity’ for the TPA.
BrexitCentral felt the need to clarify that its staff had not sought to influence decisions about Sanni’s employment status with the TaxPayers’ Alliance. ‘Nor have [the editor], Jonathan Isaby, or [the editor at large], Matthew Elliott, participated in any discussion of “protected disclosures and/or protected belief” at any meeting,’ Isaby said in an emailed response to questions to the Guardian newspaper.
Whether people who voted for Brexit were aware of the true motives of organisations like the TaxPayers’ Alliance, or the results its backers are hoping for from Brexit, is highly questionable.
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