Friday, 20 May 2011

Why Obama will not be paying Boris's congestion charge bill

Boris Johnson will confront Barack Obama about unpaid congestion charges when he arrives in London, reports the BBC.

Now this is very strange considering that Boris has repeatedly surrendered London's only argument for making the US embassy pay the charge, ie that it is a *charge* and not a tax.

If it is a charge then embassies have to pay it under international law. If it is a tax then they do not.

I have asked Transport for London to begin the legal process to remove [the Western Congestion Charge] with all convenient speed...

we can lift this tax within fourteen months at the absolute outside and hopefully earlier than that.

Now I'm all in favour of a genuine attempt to get the Americans to pay the charge, but all the evidence so far suggests that he has no real interest in doing so.

What he does have an interest in doing is stoking a controversy in order to grab some headlines, whilst doing nothing to actually solve the problem.

As he conceded in his interview this morning:

"The only way we could do this is if the foreign office gets a grip on the situation and actually takes the American government to court and gets this adjudicated in the international court."

Except the very first piece of evidence the Americans would use, would be the words of Boris Johnson himself.

-Update- I was on LBC earlier today debating this with Julia Hartley-Brewer and Charlie Wolf. You can listen to the show here.


Andrew Boff said...

When our diplomatic service starts paying the Stockholm congestion tax we could at least then look the yanks in the eye and ask that they pay ours.
I'd still recommend they don't bother -it's a tax.

Appealing of Ealing said...

It's a tax. An incredibly inefficient and wasteful one. The yanks shouldn't pay it. No one should pay it.

AdamB said...

Good to see Boris's supporters square behind him on this one.

Mark said...

Unpaid Congestion Charge actually reached £50 million a couple of months ago. The real figure is probably about £52 million as of today.

For more information about the US and a few other embassies evade the charge see this report:

Appealing of Ealing said...

If Johnson or Livingstone actually believed their own argument about this, there would have been a very simple solution.

Instead of just complaining, they would have had the offending vehicles towed away -- both mayors could easily have done that.

Of course they didn't. And why? Because to do so would have brought the matter to the courts, where they would have paid for the privilege of publically losing the argument. Cars returned, compensation, humiliating defeat, all other embassies reimbursed -- all round disaster.

Life would be much easier if people just told the truth.

Mark said...

The difference between the London Congestion Charge (which is ring fenced and the revenue solely goes to TfL) and the Stockholm charge - which just goes to the central government and can be used for any purposes, is set out in Caroline Pidgeon's report.

It is amazing that Conservative Assembly Members continue to justify TfL being denied more than £52 million in revenue by foreign embassies - many of which are European as well as obviously the US embassy.

Boris Johnson has said some daft things about the Congestion Charge in the past (in 2008 and 2009). However Conservative Assembly Members seem happy to continue to do so.

Appealing of Ealing said...

Thanks for that link Caroline -- I did see it the first time.

It's still a tax.

Andrew Boff said...

As far as the punter is concerned the Stockholm and London schemes are identical... they don't get a direct benefit from the levy so it's a tax.
If you pay a window cleaner to clean your windows it's a charge. If he cleans your neighbour's windows because they are dirtier - it's a tax.

AdamB said...

The direct benefit they get is to drive through the centre of London. By the same measure, ambassadors don't get a free pass when they cross the river at Dartford. They're paying for the benefit of crossing there rather than further up river.

Andrew Boff said...

They were paying for the benefit until the toll arrangements ran out in ( I think ) 2002. Now it's a tax too. It would probably create a diplomatic incident, however, for limos to go crashing through the barriers.

Anonymous said...

Motorists who pay the charge do get a benefit. They get access with their motor vehicles to a zone full of centres of economic activity, where congestion has been reduced. It's fascinating how the people who are normally very much in favour of free-market solutions cannot recognise one when it is in action.


Anonymous said...

The link to LBC is not valid.

AdamB said...

Sorry, try this one. The relevant podcast is the 20th May:

Luke. said...

The purpose of the congestion charge was not to raise money, but to tackle London's appalling traffic flow and congestion. Before the charge came in, the average central London journey speed was below walking speed.