The public’s attitude towards multi-millionaire tax dodgers has become less forgiving as the country has suffered under years of austerity and flat-lining pay rates.
So the royal official who decided it was a good idea for Queen Elizabeth to invest £10 million in an offshore tax haven – assuming documents among a mass leak of financial papers are accurate – made a rather spectacular mistake.
For Her Majesty to be in the same kind of company as the likes of comedian Jimmy Carr, who infamously used a tax avoidance scheme described by then Prime Minister David Cameron as “morally wrong”, must be hard for her to bear. It is considerably less than majestic behaviour.
It should be remembered that the tax affairs of the Queen are rather different to those of ordinary citizens. As head of the British Royal Fammily and the UK’s hereditary head of state, she is not actually legally obliged to pay any tax at all.
She only does so after volunteering to pay income and capital gains tax in 1992. Council tax is also paid on properties such as Buckingham Palace, Windsor Castle and Balmoral, which are all classed as band H.
Having entered into this agreement, she and her officials – it seems fairly certain she would not have made the decision personally – should abide by the spirit of it and avoid the use of tax havens and other accounting tricks designed to reduce the total bill.
Her offshore investments may indeed have been “fully audited and legitimate”, as a spokesman for the Duchy of Lancaster stressed when asked about revelations in the so-called Paradise Papers.
However, many wealthy individuals and corporations which have earned the disapproval of ordinary people struggling to pay their bills could say the same.
Any monarch needs to win and keep the affection of their people and, over the seven decades of her reign, Queen Elizabeth has by and large managed to do this.
But the Queen, or rather those officials, might learn a lesson from Jimmy Carr. When faced with reports that he was using a tax avoidance scheme, the comedian stopped trying to be funny, accepting this was a “serious matter” and admitting he had made “a terrible error of judgment”. A similar admission by the Palace and a promise to avoid tax havens in future might go a long way to restoring any lost lustre to the Crown.