Any parallels drawn between Lee Majors’ six-million-dollar man of the 1970s and Jacob Rees-Mogg’s six-million-quid man of the 2020s can only be for the purpose of highlighting polar opposites. While the six-million-dollar man was intent on doing good, six-million-quid man — let’s call him “Squid” for short — seems wholly focused on filling his boots and all the way up to the crown of his shiny, black, satin top-hat with dosh. Not only has the Leader of the House been busy trying to hobble the process for holding MPs to account on the code of conduct, but he has also been fighting a rear-guard action trying to explain away £6 million in undeclared directors’ loans.
Of course, Jacob Rees-Mogg claims that he has done nothing wrong in failing to declare these loans. That bastion of conservatism, the Daily Mail, disagrees. They allege these were soft loans, meaning they were granted on terms far more advantageous than those available in the market. As per the Daily Mail’s calculations, Squid paid a rate of 0.82 per cent, which is well-below the 2.8 to 3.2 percent typical for a mortgage around the £5 million mark. If the loan was carried for a year, that would mean a saving of between £110,880 and £133,280 — enough to buy a 2-bedroomed terrace house in Midsomer Norton in Squid’s constituency of North East Somerset. A life-changing event for a young family trying to get a foot on the property ladder…
The only problem with the Daily Mail’s calculations is that we don’t know when the loans were made or repaid, so in fact Squid might have been paying a higher rate of interest but, for a shorter time period. Still, six million quid!
The loans came from a private company called Saliston, which is 100 per cent owned by one Jacob Rees-Mogg. Oh! Squid says his reporting obligation extends only to declaring his ownership of Saliston, which he has done. On a strictly technical interpretation of the rules, that may be correct.
However, the code of conduct does require MPs to disclose “taxable expenses, allowances and benefits”. Taxable income falls under this category and according to no less an authority than Her Majesty’s Revenue and Customs, directors’ loans are taxable. Squid himself has admitted they are, which rather begs the question of how he is squaring that particular circle. Plus, Squid falls foul of the catch-all “spirit of the rules” clause in the MPs’ code of conduct:
“Members shall fulfil conscientiously the requirements of the house in respect of the registration of interests in the register of members’ financial interests. They shall always be open and frank in drawing attention to any relevant interest in any proceeding of the house or its committees, and in any communications with ministers, members, public officials or public office holders.”
Let s/he who has not had a £6 million cash-flow problem cast the first stone…
Why did Squid need £6 million in soft loans over three years (2018-20)? He wanted to buy and do-up his £5.6 million London home, but he had a “cash-flow” problem. Echoes of the Carrie-Antoinette Downing Street makeover scandal? Not quite. There are no reports of him having hit up Tory donors to finance £180-a-roll gold wallpaper, as was the case with the prime minister.
Besides, unlike most of us who struggle to pay off our mortgages over decades at far less advantageous rates, Squid has paid these loans back already, thanks to dividends from Somerset Capital. This is the Cayman-Islands-based investment firm he founded under the mentorship of controversial Brexit profiteer Crispin Odey. It will come as no surprise that Somerset Capital specialises in investing in firms that it would not be allowed to touch under EU rules, including dodgy Russian assets.
Squid said he’d paid the loans off with dividends. That’s where the Daily Mail should be looking. If something dodgy went on, it was in how these loans were repaid. The Cayman Islands charge no corporate tax, no income tax, no capital gains tax, no dividend tax, etc. Under the double taxation treaty with the UK, dividends paid from a Cayman Islands company may only be taxed in the Cayman Islands, which means they are taxed at zero per cent and there is no further tax due on them in the UK. That doesn’t pass the smell test.
Squid is a big fan of Jesus, and Jesus said we should render unto Caesar his due. Nowadays Squid would probably advise him to repatriate his carpentry business to a tax haven — or at least to set up a holding company based there. But where would we be if everyone did that?
Faux aristocrat, faux democrat
The amendment to delay Owen Paterson’s sanction, undermine the Commissioner for Standards and overthrow the Standards Select Committee may have been tabled by Andrea Leadsom, but it was Squid who led the charge. It showed him up to be about as much of a genuine democrat as he is a blue-blooded aristocrat. In both cases it’s a mere affectation.
MPs are elected and paid at a rate that is higher than 95% of the working public to represent their constituents’ interests. If they’re doing second jobs, or earning revenues from investments, or being given soft loans, then chances are a conflict of interest may arise, or they may even abuse their position to lobby on behalf of third parties, to the detriment of their constituents. That is why it is essential for MPs to record their interests in the members’ register of interests in a timely and transparent manner. The public has a right to know: does anybody “own” my MP?
A lengthening charge sheet
It’s not as if this is the first time Squid has put his unfitness to serve as an MP on display. As we’ve previously written, he is a master of spin, so much so that despite his professed love of Christ, more often than not, he seems to be doing the work of the other fella. You could drive a proverbial coach and horses through the gap between Squid’s declaration of Christianity and the practice of it (see Britain’s Tartuffe). He is also prone to gaffes, which is why he was kept away from the cameras during the 2019 general election.
If there was an honourable bone in the member for North East Somerset’s body, he would resign. It is telling that he has not. We will have to keep writing to him and reminding him: it is time to go.