Against a stormy backdrop of government instability and Brexit uncertainty, the 2017 Budget was always unlikely to rock the boat. The Chancellor chose not to launch a sweeping attack on “tax avoiders” in light of the public outrage over the Paradise Papers, instead targeting announcements in this area at specific perceived abuses.
The Budget contained some welcome developments around the key areas of real estate taxation and the digital economy, though there is clearly still a long way to go before tax policy in these areas is adequate to address the challenges ahead. In addition, it was helpful that HMRC confirmed it will not seek to reintroduce the 1.5% stamp tax charges, given the uncertainty this has caused on recent deals and the post-Brexit imperative for the UK to appear “open for business”. On the other side of the coin, tax practitioners will have mixed feelings about the raft of technical changes. While HMRC’s willingness to address drafting defects and unintended consequences is welcome, the need to do so is surely an indictment of HMRC rushing the legislation through without refining it at the outset.