October 27, 2006

Horse 649 - We Still Don't Like Your Taxes

In 1775 the American Revolution was sparked over the imposition of a tax on foodstuffs and in particular tea, which was viewed as tyrannical and opressive. 231 years later another row has broken out over taxation, and in this case it's actually on British soil.

The U.S. Embassy in London owes more than £1,000,000 for the Vehicle Congestion Charge in London. City of London authorities say the charge on driving in the centre of the city is a road toll and diplomats have to pay it like anyone else. Washington says it is a tax and diplomats are exempt.

The U.S. Embassy has refused to pay the charge since July 2005. Several other embassies have also refused but London says the U.S. embassy is the worst offender by far. London's outspoken Mayor Ken Livingstone caused a flap earlier this year when he branded U.S. ambassador Robert Tuttle a "chiselling little crook" for refusing to pay.

Drivers who fail to pay the daily £8 charge by midnight the following day face a fine of up to £150.

"It is for the British authorities to decide what is a tax and what is not a tax in the UK," Livingstone said. "Both the UK government and the Greater London Authority consider the congestion charge a charge for a service: reduced congestion. The U.S. Embassy benefits from the reduction in congestion."

He said British diplomats in the United States paid American tolls and charges. "U.S. diplomats should respect British law and pay the congestion charge," he added. The U.S. Embassy has not made an official comment but has previously said its lawyers believe diplomats are exempt from the charge under treaty.

Politically is this different to say Iraq, in which the U.S. was exempt from international law?

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