The prospects for lower CT – clarification urgently needed

On reflection, I agree with the comments that David Cameron did not necessarily go so far as the Bel Tel claim that he had “dropped a heavy hint that calls for a cut in Northern Ireland’s corporation tax would be kicked into the long grass as a result of the collapse of the Irish economy.” On this important point, his reported remarks are far from clear – nor does he appear to have been pressed for clarity – and he may indeed have simply been saying that the final terms of the bailout have to emerge and an Irish budget passed before a decision is taken on a differential rate of corporation tax for Northern Ireland.

Certainly the Executive and the Assembly aren’t behaving as if the plan has been kicked into any long grass. Peter Robinson seized the opportunity of Treasury consultations on the bailout to press NI’s case. (By the way, Bel Tel, Mark Hoban Financial Secretary to the Treasury is a minister not an “official”).

The first minister has said the British government should allow NI to relax corporation tax following its decision to give a loan to the Irish Republic.

Peter Robinson said it would be difficult to justify making the Irish economy more competitive while it had a more advantageous business tax rate.  

We’re  now in the peculiar situation over CT whereby the FM and the DFM, as a result of the British contribution to an Irish bailout, are arguing in favour of  NI  enjoying the same or similar company tax arrangements as the Republic; whereas quite a lot of cross party opinion at Westminster is against the Republic retaining the lower rate for precisely the same reason.

Call me old fashioned but it would great  if the local media tried to clear this up. For a start they could try to relate the PM’s comments to the First Minster’s and ask both Downing St and Stormont Castle for clarification, rather than run two bald little disconnected stories in successive nights, relying on quotes with little context to report the whole subject. A follow-up question for both them and the NIO would be: what chance is there now of producing the recovery strategy before Christmas? ( I’m only glad to help.)

Former BBC journalist and manager in Belfast, Manchester and London, Editor Spolight; Political Editor BBC NI; Current Affairs Commissioning editor BBC Radio 4; Editor Political and Parliamentary Programmes, BBC Westminster; former London Editor Belfast Telegraph. Hon Senior Research Fellow, The Constitution Unit, Univ Coll. London