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Yesterday, it felt like we reached a breaking point. Since Sunday evening, a steady flow of information from the Panama Papers leak had confirmed everyone's worst suspicions about the UK's role as tax haven hub of the world.
The law firm whose documents were exposed, Mossack Fonseca, has no special link to the United Kingdom. It's based in Panama, a country that isn't a natural choice for UK corporations. Despite this, over half of the 300,000 firms implicated in the leak are based in British Crown Dependencies such as the Isle of Man. Globally, Mossack Fonseca is only the fourth-biggest law firm of its type. Others have more obvious direct associations with the UK. There's every reason to believe this is simply the tip of the iceberg.
Though the Tories' rhetoric on cracking down on tax havens had never seemed particularly convincing, it was difficult to pin the blame directly on the government. After all, most of the loopholes exploited by these companies predate David Cameron's election as Prime Minister.
Obviously, there were reasons to suspect that forcing the wealthy to pay their fair share wouldn't be high on the Conservatives' agenda. We know the social circles that David Cameron, George Osborne and Boris Johnson move in. We knew the kind of people who were prone to making large donations to the Conservative Party even before their names cropped up in the Panama Leaks. Last year, questions were raised about the offshore investment fund set up by the Prime Minister's father.
What we didn't have, though, is irrefutable proof that senior politicians had knowingly used their political power to enable tax avoidance and evasion. And then came the smoking gun: a Financial Times exclusive, revealing that David Cameron had personally intervened to protect offshore tax trusts from EU transparency rules intended to crackdown on money laundering and tax avoidance.
The Conservative government has preached about "tough choices" as it cut benefits for disabled people and funding for social care – but it's now clear that the money has always been there. David Cameron made an active decision to interfere and prevent a crackdown that could have significantly increased UK tax revenues. It's not that we can't afford to look after everyone, it's that they simply don't care.
When David Cameron finally admitted to ITV that he had owned a stake in his father's dodgy offshore fund – after avoiding the question for several days – it only emphasised that he can't be trusted when it comes to setting tax law. Other senior Conservatives are no better. Boris Johnson has previously defended tax avoidance, claiming everyone has the right to "minimise" their bill. George Osborne has been dodging questions about his own family's tax affairs.
The problem doesn't lie with one particular individual, it's systemic. The politicians in charge of our country seem to believe that there's one rule for ordinary people, who pay their fair share of tax, and one rule for the wealthy who can employ clever accountants to come up with all sorts of get-out tricks. The only solution is to make those avoidance techniques impossible.
On Saturday at 11am, as many of us as possible need to gather outside 10 Downing Street and demand change. No ifs, no buts. If we don't make our anger known now, there's no chance that things will ever improve. The UK will continue to be the tax avoidance hub of the world. Companies based in British Crown Dependencies will continue to be implicated in money laundering by human trafficking gangs, weapons dealing and the large-scale theft of essential revenues from poorer countries. Currently, more money is stolen from Africa via fraud and tax avoidance then is given in aid.
What's more, our own public services will continue to be gutted by a government that is ideologically committed to rolling back the state. They'll know that if they can get away with this, they can get away with anything. I've called a protest because what else we can do except make sure our voices are heard. If enough of us shout loud enough, and keep shouting for as long as it takes, Cameron will be forced to act.
In Iceland, the Prime Minister was forced to step down after the Panama Papers revealed his family had hidden millions through an offshore tax haven. Within 24 hours of the news, 10 percent of voters had taken to the streets in anger. If large enough numbers protest here, we can also make amazing things happen. Given the UK's central role in the global network of tax avoidance and money laundering, we owe it to the whole world to at least try.
Abi is donating her fee for this article to the Trussell Trust.
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