Anne Applebaum writes:
Britain has become a place where untransparent money, from unknown sources, is widely accepted with a complacent shrug. London is the world capital of offshore banking, home to the most sophisticated accountants and lawyers; a third of British billionaires have availed themselves of those services and moved their money beyond the reach of the state, according to a report Thursday in the Times of London. Many of them nevertheless continue to make donations to British political parties, and many continue to lobby to keep the rules that favor them exactly as they are.
As a result, the British political class does not have the willpower to force them to bring their money home. The British state does not have the legal tools to force [Arron] Banks [the most important funder of both the pro-Brexit UK Independence Party (UKIP) and Leave.EU] to show where his cash came from. The British media continue to investigate, but if anyone were trying to influence the British referendum campaign from outside the country — beyond the social media manipulation that is now de rigueur in almost every election — it’s possible that we’ll never know.
And here’s the final irony: If Brexit was the creation, in part, of this new world of offshore money and political influence campaigns, Brexit may well ensure that it continues unrestricted. The E.U. is probably the only power in Europe — maybe even the only one in the world — with the regulatory strength to change the culture of tax avoidance. And since 2016, it has been slowly enacting rules designed to do exactly that. Britain, once it leaves the E.U., may well be exempt.
British industry might suffer after Brexit, and British power will be reduced. But the gray zone — where politics meets money, where foreign money can become domestic, where assets can be hidden and connections concealed — will survive. Perhaps that was the point all along. [Continue reading…]