In Brief

HMRC boss ‘received death threats’ over Brexit cost

Jon Thompson says he faced ‘very significant personal consequences’ after warning that customs plan could cost £20bn

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The UK’s head taxman has revealed that he received two threats on his life after warning that a post-Brexit customs plan favoured by some Brexiteers could cost the nation’s businesses up to £20bn.

Speaking at the Institute for Government in central London yesterday, Her Majesty’s Revenue and Customs (HMRC) chief Jon Thompson said his decision to speak out against the so-called “max fac” proposal had resulted in “very significant personal consequences”.

“Max fac” - short for “maximum facilitation” - is a proposed customs system that “would rely on technological checks to maintain an open border” in Ireland, explains PoliticsHome.

The system is favoured by some Brexiters as a workaround that would free Britain from having to abide by EU regulations on goods while avoiding a hard border. However, it is considered a red line by many, including the Democratic Unionist Party (DUP), which props up Theresa May’s minority government.

Appearing before the Treasury Select Committee in May to give his opinion on various post-Brexit customs proposals, Thompson said that “max fac” could end up costing UK businesses as much as a no-deal Brexit.

He said that HMRC had arrived at its £17bn to £20bn estimate by “combining the volume of additional declarations and their cost” to the UK with “extra costs on the EU side because UK export declarations would need to be matched by EU import declarations and vice versa”, the BBC reports.

His warning met with a furious backlash among some pro-Leave factions. “The first I knew it was significant was when my 28-year-old son text[ed] me with, ‘you’re trending on Twitter’,” Thompson told Civil Service World. “[I thought] ‘Oh, is that a good thing? I don’t know.’”

The anger of some critics went well beyond social media. “We have had to literally change how I travel and what my personal security is,” Thompson said. “We have had two death threats investigated by the Metropolitan Police for speaking truth unto power about Brexit.”

Conservative MP Nicky Morgan, who chairs the Treasury committee, told PoliticsHome that Thompson had “considered what he said very carefully” in his appearance before MPs and that the violence of the backlash against him was “appalling”.

“As someone who has also been threatened, it is deeply concerning that this is what Brexit seems to have done to public life,” she added.

However, Thompson insists that the threats had not deterred him from what he calls his “fundamental” responsibility as a civil servant to “give ministers the best advice that we can”.

“For me that is about personal integrity, and sometimes it is really really difficult - and it is tough with ministers - but it is the right thing to do,” he said.

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