Theresa May rails against tax avoidance and says big businesses 'need to change'

Posted On: 
11th July 2016

Theresa May has set out plans for major reform of big businesses with an attack on companies that avoid paying their taxes. 

Theresa May in a speech on economic inequality in Birmingham
Chris Radburn/PA Wire

The Home Secretary said she would give workers a spot on company boards, make shareholder votes on executive pay binding, and directly criticised big firms linked with tax avoidance like Starbucks and Google.

Ms May said she wanted to put the Conservatives “at the service of working people”.

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The Tories would “remain the party of enterprise” under her leadership, she added.

Speaking before Andrea Leadsom’s statement withdrawing her candidacy, Ms May singled out energy firms and banks as two industries in need of reform – two of the targets of former Labour leader Ed Miliband.

“It’s not anti-business to suggest that big business needs to change,” she said.

“If there’s evidence that the big utility firms and the retail banks are abusing their roles in highly consolidated markets we shouldn’t just complain about it, we shouldn’t say it’s too difficult; we should do something about it.”

She also promised a crackdown on corporate and personal tax avoidance.

“We also understand that tax is the price we pay for living in a civilised society. No individual or no business, however rich, has succeeded all on their own,” she said.

“It doesn’t matter to me whether you’re Amazon, Google or Starbucks, you have a duty to put something back, you have a debt to fellow citizens and you have a responsibility to pay your taxes.”

She ruled out the possibility of a government under her backsliding out of the decision to leave the European Union.

“Brexit means Brexit”, she reiterated, describing it as a “moment of great national change”.

Her speech was welcomed by TUC general secretary Frances O’Grady, who said: “If politicians are serious about making chief executives more accountable this is a common sense approach. I stand ready to meet Theresa May to discuss these proposals.”


In addition to her comments about economic inequality, Ms May railed against racial and class injustice.

“If you're born poor, you will die on average nine years earlier than others.

"If you're black, you're treated more harshly by the criminal justice system than if you're white.

“If you're a white, working-class boy, you're less likely than anybody else to go to university. If you're at a state school, you're less likely to reach the top professions than if you're educated privately.

"If you're a woman, you still earn less than a man. If you suffer from mental health problems, there's too often not enough help to hand. If you're young, you'll find it harder than ever before to own your own home...

"These are the reasons why, under my leadership, the Conservative party will put itself – completely, absolutely, unequivocally – at the service of working people.”