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Why Apple’s low-tax deal is no blueprint for Brexit Britain

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One of the islands that makes up Papua New Guinea is called New Ireland. But it seems that a much colder island far to the north might also wish to be called New Ireland – the island formerly known as Great Britain.

In the wake of the European commission’s ruling that Ireland must reclaim €13bn plus interest in taxes from Apple, there is a good deal of excitement at the prospect of a post-Brexit Britain replacing its smaller neighbour in the affections of tax-shy global corporations. As the Daily Telegraph put it in an editorial: “If Ireland and the EU do not want a huge, wealth-creating firm doing business in their territory, Apple will be very welcome in the UK.” Welcome, that is, to use the UK as it has previously used Ireland – as a compliant state that will look the other way while vast profits pass through, untaxed.

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It is, on the surface, an appealing prospect. You only have to walk around Dublin or Cork to see that Ireland’s tax regime has been a honeypot for all the hottest digital corporations – not just the long-established ones like Apple, Microsoft and Intel but the entire new wave of internet behemoths: Google, Facebook, Twitter and so on. And the same is broadly true in other areas such as pharmaceuticals and medical devices. Little Ireland has a stock of US direct investment much larger than France and Germany combined. Ireland is the number one location worldwide for investment by US chemical and pharmaceutical companies and number two for IT companies. And no one thinks those corporations are attracted by the scenery.

For the more excitable elements among the Brexiters, the EU’s ruling on Apple’s tax bill thus opens up a delirious prospect. The Brussels bureaucrats are moving against Ireland’s vigorously pro-business taxation policies, but Britain, when it throws off the shackles of the EU, will be free to swoop in and grab the golden eggs from the Irish nest. Apple and Pfizer, Facebook and Google, driven by EU persecution from the emerald isle, will seek asylum in the New Ireland next door, where the writ of the Eurocrats does not run and the government knows how to treat a corporation with the respect it deserves. Could there be any more dramatic illustration of both the evils of the EU and the thrilling possibilities of Brexit?

There are, however, two small questions about this strategy. Is it possible? And is it desirable? The answers might perhaps curb the enthusiasm of the true believers.

There is, for a start, the small matter of whether, even after the EU tax ruling, Apple wants to leave Ireland for the UK or anywhere else. The answer could hardly be clearer – it doesn’t.

In an interview with Ireland’s national broadcaster RTE, chief executive Tim Cook was full of indignation at the very idea that Apple might have benefited from illegal state aid in the form of a sweetheart tax deal. “When you are accused of doing something that’s so foreign to your values, it brings out an outrage in you, that’s how we feel,” he said. He made clear that Apple will appeal against the €13bn ruling and that it expected the Irish government to do the same. Those listening out for signs of a dismay that might be exploited by post-Brexit Britain will have been encouraged – up to a point.

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