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One minute with...James Quarmby

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What’s in your in-tray? 
Rather too much at the moment. I have a new Code of Practice 9 case, some pre-immigration planning for a Greek national moving to the UK, advice on ATED for an offshore structure, sundry internal administration papers and a few articles from Tax Journal to read.
What’s your view on the ‘Panama papers’ and the media coverage over the prime minister’s tax affairs?
My views on the prime minister’s offshore investments are now rather well known following my interview by John Humphreys on Radio 4’s Today on Friday 8 April. On the same day, I was interviewed on television on BBC Breakfast, and a clip of that interview, which was shared on Facebook, has had nearly 4m views. In short, I was defending the PM’s right to make a perfectly legal investment upon which he paid all appropriate tax. The BBC interviewer was lost for words after I suggested that the headline should have read: ‘Man makes modest investment and pays all his tax’. 
What effect would Brexit have on the UK tax system?
I’m fascinated by Brexit and its potential effect on our tax system, given how much of it is influenced by the EU. I wonder how much more aggressive our anti-avoidance rules would become if we need no longer need to respect the freedom of establishment and free movement of capital rules. I’m also rubbing my hands together at the myriad constitutional consequences of leaving the EU, not that I support a Brexit. 
If you could make one change to a tax law, what would it be? 
I believe strongly in the virtues of a simple flat tax system, with complex reliefs and exemptions being abolished. This will make our tax system both easier to understand and more difficult to abuse. 
Name a recent development in tax that caught your eye.
I’m concerned about the Murray case, which involved the now infamous EBT, as I feel that the court has gone too far in stretching the law to accommodate the wishes of HMRC. It is difficult to see how, according to the legislation in force at that time, the payment to the EBT could be seen as earnings of the employees. Otherwise, why would it have been necessary to introduce the ‘disguised remuneration’ rules in 2011? 
Looking back on your career to date, what key lesson have you learned?
Measure twice, but cut only once. 
Aside from your immediate colleagues, whom in tax do you most admire?
Richard Hay of Stikeman Elliot, for his excellent work in standing up for the rights of the offshore finance centres and dispelling many of the myths and misunderstandings about the offshore industry.
What do you think about the new strict liability crimes proposed by the government?
I think that we should be very careful about introducing strict liability offences of this nature. Our criminal law is already quite sufficient to deal with tax fraud, which is a loss of revenue to the Crown occasioned by deliberate conduct. If you remove the requirement for deliberate conduct, then you will criminalise the careless or forgetful – that is not the proper function of our criminal legal system and the new proposal will therefore lead to injustice. 
Finally, you might not know this about me but …
I’m originally qualified in economics and finance and worked in a management position at BT plc but decided that I couldn’t face a life of management, so I resigned and became a full time student again, this time to study law. After qualifying as a solicitor, I fell into tax almost by accident – I certainly had no intentions as a student to practice tax law – but found I had an affinity for it and here I am today, completing a questionnaire for the Tax Journal. It’s funny old life.  
Issue: 1305
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