March 29, 2009
Brown snubbed over tax
Germans wreck ‘global new deal’
Jonathan Oliver and Bojan Pancevski Times on Line
GORDON BROWN’S carefully laid plans for a G20 deal on worldwide tax cuts have been scuppered by an eve-of-summit ambush by European leaders.
Angela Merkel, the German chancellor, last night led the assault on the prime minister’s “global new deal” for a $2 trillion-plus fiscal stimulus to end the recession.
“I will not let anyone tell me that we must spend more money,” she said.
The Spanish finance minister, Pedro Solbes, also dismissed new cash being pledged at Thursday’s London summit.
“In these conditions I and the rest of my colleagues from the eurozone believe there is no room for new fiscal stimulus plans,” he said.
Nicolas Sarkozy, the French president, has insisted that “radical reform” of capitalism is more important than tax cutting.
The attacks on Brown’s ambitions for the G20 to inject more money into the world economy come at the end of a week where the prime minister has travelled to three continents to build support for his proposals.
The likely deadlock at this week’s meeting will kill any remaining hope that Alistair Darling’s April 22 budget will offer significant tax cuts.
The assault by European Union leaders also represents a defeat for President Barack Obama, who is desperate for other big economies to copy his $800 billion stimulus plan.
“There will be a very long communiqué, but there won’t be much in it,” said a Washington economist.
Adding to the disarray, a draft of the agreement Brown hopes to secure was leaked to a German news magazine, prompting suggestions of “dirty tricks” by Berlin.
The draft stated that Britain wanted a “$2 trillion” global fiscal stimulus. However, the figure appeared only in brackets, indicating agreement on the package had yet to be reached.
The stimulus would boost world growth by 2% and employment by 19m, the draft said. The rest of the document was mainly general pledges.
“We believe that an open world economy, based on the principles of the market, effective regulation and strong global institutions, can ensure sustainable globalisation with rising well-being for all,” it said.
A No 10 source expressed “disappointment” at the leak and insisted the $2 trillion figure was not new money but an expression of the total tax and spending packages already pledged by G20 members.
Privately, government officials admit that no further fiscal stimulus will be announced this week, although there will be a $250 billion package for the International Monetary Fund to help rescue struggling poor nations.
Lord Mandelson, the business secretary, said he sympathised with the concerns of demonstrators planning to disrupt the London summit. “There is understandable frustration and some anger. The global economic systems has stalled and what we have got to do is get it started.”
George Osborne, the shadow chancellor, yesterday warned Brown against further tax cuts in the budget. “When it comes to your plans for a second fiscal stimulus, I say this Gordon Brown: enough is enough,” he said in a speech. “We will not let you play roulette with the public finances yet again.”
UK officials have not given up on the idea there could be agreement on a fresh boost for the world economy later in the year. “It is likely that there will be another heads of government meeting probably in Asia in the autumn,” said an official.
“This will be the forum where the next round of stimulus will be discussed.”
Brown still hopes to establish the IMF as an informal referee for international tax cuts. The plan is that the Washington-based body could advise on the timing of any future cuts.
Merkel’s criticism drew an angry response from Labour MPs. Denis MacShane, the former Europe minister, said: “Who does Mrs Merkel think is going to buy Mercedes and BMWs if she . . . says putting demand into the economy is a bad thing?” Another Labour MP said: “One has to ask who had something to gain from the leak of the communiqué. This feels like a dirty trick.”
There are growing fears that protests at the summit venue, the ExCeL centre in London’s Docklands could be marred by violence. Scotland Yard will be deploying specialist officers trained to use 50,000-volt Taser stun guns.