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One minute with... Gerald Montagu

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What’s keeping you busy at work?

Lots of structured financings, establishing debt funds, a complex chargeable events audit, a film scheme settlement, stamp duty puzzles, (Brexit-related) VAT, French M&A and scoping renewable/clean energy projects in Anglophone Africa. So, all in all, quite a varied bag.

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

I’d abolish something clunky and badly targeted – which perhaps does not limit the field as much as it should. Maybe, though, DAC 6? 

What do you know now that you wish you’d known at the start of your career?

A wise person (who happened to be an expert on canon law, rather than tax law) once said to me: ‘You cannot be too careful, but you can be too cautious’. Working out where care finishes and caution starts, is much harder than I realised at the time, and I should have taken the chance to seek more guidance. I often find myself trying to work out where the dividing line lies. 

Are any new rules causing a particular problem in practice?

HMRC’s comment, on 5 May 2020, that HMRC ‘believes’ that its guidance on the effect of the lockdown for residence purposes is ‘consistent’ with the approach recommended by the OECD Secretariat (3 April 2020) seems a recipe for confusion. Read cold, HMRC’s original guidance clearly fell short of what the OECD said. It is regrettable HMRC did not follow the constructive approach, praised by the OECD, taken by the Irish Revenue. 

Has recent case caught your eye?

The Court of Appeal’s decision on the source of interest in Ardmore Construction [2018] EWCA 1438 is an example of the tangle we can get into if past decisions are relied upon without sufficient sensitivity to their historical context: the past is indeed a foreign country. The decision has obscured, rather than clarified, and that is never helpful.

What should we look out for later this year?

Compared to the US, the UK (and EU) has been slow to flex tax law to help companies bear the burden of Covid-related debt. It will be interesting to see if this changes, for example, through a relaxation of the interest restriction. 

Fundamental reform of IHT and social care is long overdue, but I fear this may remain on the back burner. 

Is there anything positive emerging from HMRC’s reaction to Covid-19?

The gathering tsunami of stock transfer forms awaiting stamping must be truly horrific for those at the Stamp Office charged with any ‘catch-up’. One can only hope that the thought of being swept away by a torrent of paper may at last convince the Stamp Office that it is now time to grasp the nettle for fundamental reform and move into the 21st century. 

You might not know this about me but...

Naming a favourite author is impossible. But, a desert island with Guarsechi’s Don Camillo, Calvino’s Our Ancestors, Sara Lodge’s Inventing Edward Lear, Peter Linehan’s magisterial History and the Historians of Medieval Spain, Jorge Borge’s Fictions and Christopher De Hamel’s immensely civilised Meetings with Remarkable Manuscripts would not be a bad place to be (at least if accompanied, as Douglas Adams so wisely recommended, by a towel!). 

My lockdown escape is listening to music and dabbling in the mysterious world of psychoacoustics.

It is never too late to seek to fill a gap, like learning French. 
Issue: 1496
Categories: One minute with