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One minute with... Jonathan Bremner

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What attracted you to the tax bar?

I was first attracted to the tax bar by its combination of rigorous logical argument and creative legal analysis. There was in fact far more court work available than I had originally anticipated and I found that I enjoyed being able to change the dynamic of a case for the better, whether through strategic decision making, searching cross-examination or well-structured submissions.

What’s in your in-tray?

A wide range of corporate and business tax issues, ranging from the tax treatment of loan relationships, through disputes concerning capital allowances, VAT and landfill tax, to GLOs dealing with the compatibility of the UK’s cross-border dividend taxation regime with EU law. I have upcoming hearings in the Court of Appeal in November dealing with group relief and in January dealing with VAT grouping/Fleming claims.

Is there a recent tax case that has caught your eye?

Project Blue Ltd v HMRC [2018] UKSC 30 has seen the Supreme Court grappling, for the first time, with the SDLT targeted anti-avoidance rule in FA 2003 s 75A. While noting the continued central importance of purposive construction, the Supreme Court was unpersuaded by attempts to use a section heading to read down the scope of a broadly worded anti-avoidance rule. Thus, while s 75A is headed ‘Anti-avoidance’, the Supreme Court confirms that it is not limited to transactions which have been entered into for the purpose of avoiding SDLT. Rather, it is sufficient for the operation of s 75A that tax avoidance, in the sense of a reduced liability or no liability to SDLT, resulted from the series of transactions which the parties put in place, whatever their motives.

If you could make one change to UK tax law or practice, what would it be?

I would shorten the tax code. The legislation has become over-engineered, trying to cater for all eventualities but without articulating its underlying purpose. The result is a patchwork that is inaccessible and unduly complex, and which inevitably contains inconsistencies and gaps. It would be preferable for the principles upon which the legislation is based to be much more explicitly expressed, enabling the specific rules to be set out much more concisely. This would, however, require fundamental change in the style of drafting tax legislation.

Looking back on your career to date, what advice would you give to others?

Always read to the end of the section. Never make assumptions. In law generally (but in tax in particular) the detail is of critical importance: it is possible to build an unanswerable case by starting right at the beginning, working through to the end and being able to explain each step of the journey in clear and simple language. It just takes time and patience to do so.

And finally, you might not know this about me but…

I spent a large part of my childhood, including my first years at school, in Paris – my father was working there for his family company, helping to build the French market for Scotch whisky. I like to play the piano to relax and unwind. 


Issue: 1411
Categories: One minute with