Google's European boss got grilled by MPs on tax and couldn't even name his salary

Matt brittin googleParliamentMatt Brittin, Google’s European boss, testifies to the Public Accounts Committee on February 11, 2016.

Google’s European boss Matt Brittin testified to MPs on Monday about the Californian giant’s tax affairs.

Accompanied by Google’s global head of tax Tom Hutchinson, Brittin was at times questioned aggressively by the Public Accounts Committee, following public outcry about Google’s £130 million tax bill — which critics argue amounts to a 3% tax rate.

Here are some of the key points:

  • Brittin got savaged early on over his own paycheck, when he was asked — and failed to provide — his salary. “I don’t have the figure but I’ll happily provide it,” the exec said. “Don’t you feel a bit embarrassed by this,” MP Meg Hiller asked, “that you don’t even know what you’re paid?”
  • Of the £130 million Google paid in tax to HMRC, £18 million was interest. None was fees.
  • Brittin says he is “sure” that Google officials will have discussed tax in meetings with ministers, although he stressed HMRC’s decision was reached independently. “I’d be surprised if it didn’t [come up] given the scrutiny.”
  • The UK is responsible for 10% of Google’s global sales — higher than anywhere else in the world. The figure was raised following a question about Italy and France, whose tax authorities are reportedly trying to negotiate higher tax settlements with Google than the one paid in the UK. Brittin: “We’re not confirming those rumours as to what’s happening.”
  • Google disputes the “characterisation” of the £130 million bill as a “deal” with HMRC. It’s “not a deal, it’s the amount of tax we’re required to say,” said Brittin.
  • The £130 million tax settlement is Google’s largest ever. Brittin: “We’ve never paid an audit settlement larger than the ones we’ve just agreed to.”
  • At one point, MP Caroline Flint — a former minister — questioned Brittin and Hutchinson. She asked whether Google thought the tax deal was fair, and when Hutchinson answered in the affirmative, she asked pointedly: “Then why weren’t you paying it in each of the tax years?” “That’s a good question,” Hutchinson acknowledged.
  • Google denies that its corporate structure — routed through Bermuda — in any way affects the amount of tax it pays.
  • Brittin suggested that one of the reasons Google had its European HQ in Ireland (with its lower tax rates) was because of how many languages staff can speak. He acknowledged that “lower tax rates was one of the factors, so was lower property costs, high-cost internet across the Atlantic.”
  • Challenged again over the £130 million figure, Brittin said that “we can’t legally pay more tax in the UK” because there’s no mechanism to do so. “That’s simply not true,” countered MP Richard Bacon.
  • Brittin repeatedly called for a simplification of global tax rules, echoing his comments made in The Telegraph this morning.

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