HMRC Refuse Right of Conscientious Objection

by Outreach ~ May 26th, 2016. Filed under: News.

A group of staff from Britain Yearly Meeting (BYM), the charity which manages the central policy, property, staff and work of Quakers in Britain, have had a request rejected by the Treasury. They wanted to exercise their right of conscientious objection to war by ensuring that none of their taxes are used for military purposes.

Forty one individuals, representing their personal concerns and not that of Quakers in Britain as a whole, signed the letter which requested, ‘…that the part of our taxes that is currently used for military purposes be diverted to a special fund which is used only for non-military forms of security.’

In response to their letter the staff were told, ‘… as the law stands there are no provisions for taxpayers to withhold tax on grounds of conscience, or to decide which part of Government expenditure they would like their payments to be allocated to.’

A representative from Her Majesty’s Revenue and Customs continued, ‘To change a system where taxes could be earmarked for… specific items of expenditure, would restrict the Government’s ability to respond flexibly to changing priorities, or to react quickly to unforeseen circumstances’.

Conscience: Taxes for Peace Not War, an organisation which works to legalise the right of conscientious objection to military tax (COMT), argues that the Government is falsely assuming that state killing is equivalent to other forms of government spending.

This fails to recognise that conscientious objector (CO) status is a matter of moral, religious or ethical urgency for many individuals and therefore a human rights issue, not a political decision.

The argument that recognising the rights of COs would restrict Government power is an old one – one roundly defeated at the height of World War One when conscientious objection was first legalised.

If conscientious objection can be recognised in wartime, why not in peacetime as well?

Holly Wallis, a spokesperson from Conscience: Taxes for Peace Not War, has stated ‘Modern wars are no longer fought with conscript armies in which a CO can refuse to serve; they are fought with professional soldiers, high-tech weaponry, and the ideology of deterrence – paid for with our taxes. This is financial conscription with no right to object.’

She continued ‘Hypothecation, the practice of earmarking a specific tax for a specific purpose, is increasingly becoming part of the British Tax System. A non-military security fund provides the means by which COs, like the staff at BYM, can finance national security without undermining the collective nature of the UK Tax System.’

Sam Walton, one of those who wrote to HMRC informing of his personal objection, has stated ‘As conscientious objectors to war, we must also object to our taxes funding the military. This is all the more important in an era of remote warfare via armed drones and an imminent government decision to waste hundreds of billions on replacing Britain’s nuclear weapons.’

Regarding the response he received from the Treasury, Sam has stated ‘I am pleased that we have made HMRC aware that we conscientiously object to military taxation, and that has been noted by them. I would encourage others to use Conscience’s Peace Tax Return to do the same.’


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