LibLink: Nick Clegg – Why Brexit, the junior doctors and Apple tax are all connected

Nick Clegg’s weekly column in the Evening Standard is back following the summer break, and in this week’s Nick sees a link between three of the big news stories of recent weeks:

The junior doctors’ dispute is in part a casualty of focus-group policy-making. The Conservatives discovered — unsurprisingly — that the public, when asked, want a “seven-day NHS”. So they entangled themselves in an increasingly bitter dispute to unpick the existing contractual arrangements governing junior doctors to deliver that promise, even though there is precious little evidence that the old contract was the impediment to a seven-day service in the first place.

More importantly, the junior doctors’ dispute is also an anguished sign of an overstretched NHS struggling to cope with the demographic pressures placed on it. The status quo — a rapidly ageing population, a social-care system on its knees, the rising cost of medication and a modest increase in NHS resources — is clearly unsustainable. Many millions of voters know, intuitively, what an increasing number of think-tanks and NHS managers have been saying with growing alarm: the NHS needs more money — and fast.

That’s why the Brexit campaign focused so remorselessly — and effectively — on the pledge to deliver  £350 million a week to the NHS if we left the EU. It was a highly attractive claim that drew widespread support across the country to the Brexit banner.

So when Theresa May says “Brexit means Brexit”, be under no illusion: for many Brexit voters what Brexit “means” to them is hundreds of millions of extra pounds for our overstretched hospitals, and junior doctors, every week. I suspect, unfair though it may feel to the many hard-working junior doctors who are going to strike, that public sympathy with their plight may wane pretty fast in the coming weeks. Much of the focus, rightly, will be on the knock-on impact the strikes will have on innocent patients.

So what has this got to do with an impenetrably complex dispute about the tax that Apple has paid — or rather not paid — in Ireland, which the European Commission has condemned as an illegal form of “state aid”? Everything and nothing. Nothing, because this is about tax that should have been paid in Ireland and other European countries over many years — and which, according to Tim Cook, is now more likely to result in a windfall payment to the US tax authorities instead. So the dispute itself will have little if no bearing on the NHS and the disputes surrounding it.

In other ways, however, it has everything to do with both the NHS and Brexit. Because in a footloose, fancy-free world in which large multinational corporations can effectively pick and choose where they pay their taxes, huge questions of national sovereignty and fairness loom: if the big multinationals can minimise the tax they pay, who’s going to pay for the public services that their customers rely on? If big global corporations do not play their part — the share of the total tax take that comes from corporations has almost halved in the UK since 1989 — then the burden will increasingly fall on those who can’t move their tax arrangements from one jurisdiction to another: everyday, individual taxpayers.

Nick concludes:

That is why the somewhat technocratic case made by the excellent European Commissioner Margrethe Vestager is so much more significant than it seems. It strikes at the heart of a deep fault line: is it governments, working together, who retain the right to set the taxes that should be fairly paid? Or is it multinationals, capable of relocating for tax purposes from one place to the next, who set the pace?

And that’s the cruel dilemma we now face as a country: in seeking to “take back control” we will inevitably relinquish control over so many of the global forces that affect everything from the crime on our streets to the funding of our hospitals — and junior doctors.

You can read the full thing here.

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This entry was posted in LibLink.


  • Matt (Bristol) 8th Sep '16 - 11:05am

    Can those who know more than I comment on whether Mr C completely and successfully eschewed focus-group oriented policy making when serving as leader of our party?

  • Eddie Sammon 8th Sep '16 - 11:08am

    I didn’t understand how if Margrethe Vestager says profits should be taxed where they are made then she can say Apple owes all that tax to Ireland. I can understand the White House being annoyed at it, and other European governments too. Surely it is Ireland who should be punished if they broke state aid rules and Apple followed Irish law anyway. It’s a big mess.

    The EU can help balance the power against multinationals, but to be honest a handful of top accountants could do similar, but economists and lobbyists defend the tax breaks so the avoidance continues.

    He’s right to say public sympathy will wane over the doctors’ strike. A poll has come out showing 48% against the 5 day strike and 34% in favour. But I would have been harsher. Even the Observer has come out strongly against saying more staff are being provided and it looks political rather than contract based, although the editorial says junior doctors have been kept in the dark about the extent of the compromises made by the government.

    I just think if when my mum was in hospital if doctors walked out on a strike I would have been fuming and for what? We are talking about kid’s lives here too – no way could the seniors have covered them all for five days at short notice.

  • Matt (Bristol) 8th Sep '16 - 11:09am

    But, more, constructively, he make a hugely important point about the collective bargaining with business able to be done in a democratic federation of nations.

    But this is exactly why the Tory case for ‘Remain’ was so watery, because they seem instinctively distrust that concept as too left-wing for them.

    So there was a flaw right there in our own Referendum strategy to let Cameron carry the wavering nation as a whole whilst we enthused the true-believers. Cameron himself was not whole-hearted about being part of a larger federation of nations that would restrict his freedom of action to cut his own deals with big business. So we gave an unreliable caretaker the keys to the mansion, and are screaming with fury when he let in them in to steal the silver.

  • Using phoney head offices around the EU in order to minimise corporation tax was started in Luxembourg during the 24 years when the present EU Commission President, Jean-Claude Juncker, was its finance minister then prime minister.

  • paul barker 8th Sep '16 - 1:01pm

    Matt makes a fair point but if Cameron wasnt going to lead for Remain then who was ? Corbyn who didnt beleive in The EU & refused to share platforms. If Farron had tried to lead the Media would have ignored him.
    The weakness of Remain stemmed from the weakness of The Centre-Left : labour are too tied-up in their Civil War & we are too weak to take their place, yet.

  • Peter Watson 8th Sep '16 - 1:12pm

    “That’s why the Brexit campaign focused so remorselessly — and effectively — on the pledge to deliver £350 million a week to the NHS if we left the EU.”
    To be fair, every attempt to justify reductions in government spending is described by politicians and the media in terms of how much more money would be available for the NHS.
    Often it seems that the unit of currency for capital expenditure is the “hospital” and for revenue expenditure it is the “nurse”.

  • It is surprising that LDV haven’t covered the very interesing news that the ALDE’s Guy Verhofstadt will be the European Parliament’s chief negotiater in the Brexit negotiations. The appointment is a particularly encouraging development from a Scottish point of view.

  • I’m glad the doctors’ strike has been averted for now, but I don’t think it’s fair to say it’s irresponsible. Of course, if you or a loved one happen to be in the hospital during the strike, you might have to hang around a bit longer. Alternatively, your routine operation may be postponed, and it is tempting to think about all of the negative consequences of this.

    However, the flip side is that if we don’t collectively push the government into realising that slight of hand over contracts, and punishing those who work the hardest, is not the solution to the problems of the NHS, then we’ll all be experiencing staff shortages and longer waiting lists whenever we need help. We are already in a situation where there are vacancies and recruitment problems, which will only get worse if the government continues down this route.

    All of this talk of the government compromising is nonsense. It’s not as if the doctors asked for a huge pay rise and less hours, and Gove has agreed to meet them halfway. He wanted to impose a whole new contract that would result in worse working conditions, and for many, less pay. Why should they be grateful for a compromise to make conditions a bit less bad with a bit less pay? To make matters worse, Gove has a habit of appearing on tv telling what can only be described as lies, making ridiculous announcements to the media.

    If he stopped lying about it, they wouldn’t be half as angry, and might have caved in before now.

  • The doctors are fast losing credibility and a reputation for integrity.

  • Matt (Bristol) 8th Sep '16 - 11:10pm

    Paul – you are right, to an extent, but at least Labour (like our party) put actual party money into the Remain campaign. The Tories? not a sausage. I still have somewhere a party email that explained how Cameron and the ‘official’ campaign would enthuse the wobblers and we would just mobilise the already-converted. That strategy put cynics who didn’t entirely like the EU at the heart of defending something they didn’t understand, or if they did, just felt that the public would rather be bribed than convinced.

  • Katerina Porter 9th Sep '16 - 3:46pm

    The NHS was the cheapest as well as one of the best public health systems in the world which from 1948 for decades had admin costs of 3 -4% of the budget. The bill of 2012 w changed its whole basis – in 1948 the bill began by saying that that the Secretary of State was responsible for all citizens in the UK having access to the best affordable care. This is not in the present bill. The introduction of commissioning, contracts, and competition, with all the relevant paperwork involved means that now admin costs are at 30 -40 %. Professor Allyson Pollock, who drafted a bill to counter this in 2012 explains it all on TEDxExeter and as members of the coalition we are also responsible for some of the dire straits the NHS is in now and the crisis with junior doctors is one.

  • David Evershed 9th Sep '16 - 3:53pm

    Junior doctors don’t seem to want to negotiate a different contract. They seem to want to unilaterally decide how the NHS should be run rather than the NHS management deciding.

    Anarchy in the NHS is not a good thing. Lib Dems should steer clear.

  • I see the right wing tendency (theakes et al) are out in force again knocking the junior doctors without any sign of knowing or considering what Hunt has been up to.


    @ David Evershed “Junior doctors don’t seem to want to negotiate a different contract. They seem to want to unilaterally decide how the NHS should be run rather than the NHS management deciding”.

    Shouldn’t that be :

    “Jeremy Hunt doesn’t seem to want to negotiate a different contract. He seems to want to unilaterally decide how the NHS should be run rather than the NHS management deciding”.

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