After four days of stalling and releasing partial statements, British Prime Minister David Cameron has admitted to benefitting from the offshore trust of his late father, Ian Cameron. However, the roundabout matter in which Cameron addressed the matter, revealed in the Panama Papers leak, has only served to amplify the criticism directed against him. Cameron appears to have been backed into a corner by the media and forced to admit to the shares, and this does not help his emphasis on “transparency”.
In an interview with ITV News on Thursday (April 7), Cameron announced that he and his wife, Samantha, did indeed have a stake in his father’s Panama-based fund, Blairmore, which they sold before he became prime minister in 2010. He told the television channel, “We owned 5,000 units in Blairmore Investment Trust, which we sold in January 2010. That was worth something like £30,000.”
Asked whether there was a profit made on the sale of the shares, Cameron responded that he had paid income tax on the dividends but the profit was lower than the threshold for capital gains tax. Cameron reassured his interviewer that the profit “was subject to all the UK taxes in all the normal ways”.
Besides the fact that Cameron directly benefitted from a fund that avoided paying UK tax, his inability to be upfront about his finances have generated a frenzied response. The interview was the fifth instalment in a series of partial responses given by Downing Street on the matter.
British media reaction
Cameron’s “confession” dominates today’s headlines in the UK.
An article in The Guardian suggests Cameron’s revelation provides an opportunity to take a “sudden and sobering look at what the Tories might actually stand for.” Despite claims from the Conservative Party that the British people are “all in this together,” the headlines buzzing around the prime minister show that “what remains of the old landed classes has largely blurred into the moneyed elites whose habits have once again been revealed in this week’s news: rich enough to buy property in the most expensive districts of the world’s big cities, and well acquainted with the world of offshore finance.”
The article also suggests that the Panama Papers fallout could negatively affect the Conservatives’ candidate for London mayor, Zac Goldsmith. Goldsmith owns two valuable houses acquired through companies registered in the Cayman Islands, and his family wealth has long been held in a Swiss-based trust.
Calls for resignation
The most hostile response to the “confessions” comes from the opposition, some of whom have demanded Cameron resign. Calling it a “matter of transparency” John Mann, a Labour MP, has said that Cameron should resign over his failure to declare his shares since 2001.
The deputy leader of the Labour party, Tom Watson, has also responded to Cameron’s interview, calling it an “extraordinary admission” that has taken “six years to come to light”:
“After days of repeatedly avoiding the issue, this is an extraordinary admission from the prime minister. David Cameron, who described the use of complex tax avoidance schemes as “morally wrong”, has been forced to admit that he held shares in a fund now linked to tax avoidance. Far from being the end of the matter, the questions keep coming. Did the prime minister know that this fund was linked to tax avoidance? If so, when, and if not, why not?” he said.
“Astounding levels of hypocrisy”
In response to the revelations, the leader of the Welsh party, Plaid Cymru, has released a statement suggesting Cameron should report himself to the parliamentary standards committee, saying that: “This revelation from the prime minister shows astounding levels of hypocrisy. He publicly spoke out about tax havens and tax avoidance, while privately knowing that only a few years ago he had benefitted from an offshore company himself. This raises serious questions about his integrity…”
The statement also calls for the leader of the Tories in Wales to respond to the issue demanding that he condemn Cameron’s actions and publicly distance himself from him.
The end is yet to come
The revelation in no way draws a line in the sand to signal the end of a personal crisis for Cameron. The fact that he benefitted from funds stored in offshore tax havens is likely to stretch a government that has already faced an embarrassing climb down on cuts to disability allowance and is currently in the middle of a crisis to save Port Talbot and the UK steel industry. The Conservative Party is also tearing itself apart over the Brexit issue. Given this political climate, the fallout from Cameron’s confession is far from over.
Social media also had its say
It is not just politicians and the media who have expressed their disappointment in Cameron. Hours after it was revealed that he had benefitted from offshore investments, the hashtag #CurseDavidCameron was trending on Twitter. The tweets castigated the prime minister by wishing him ‘British’ ills such as losing the television remote and losing his biscuits in his tea.