'Why don't you call a spade a spade?' Google under attack

A stroppy session of one of Westminster's most powerful committees and one of the world's biggest businesses is just drawing to close.The Google UK boss has been asked again and again and again where the business makes its sales, and MPs have suggested that the company may be misleading Parliament. That is basically accusing them of lying - a very serious claim.

Matt Brittin, the boss, told the committee in November, that "anybody who buys advertising from us in Europe buys from Google in Ireland from our expert team." That was part of a long session of evidence, but was the key quote MPs picked up on. Transactions are booked in Dublin, and accounts officially managed from there. But as I wrote earlier former staff based in the UK have told the committee and me, that they considered themselves to be selling advertising from here in the UK.

Brittin almost confessed as much, admitting that "customers will feel they're being sold to." But he has just said, "the UK based team are selling but not closing" deals, and as far as he is concerned that is what matters to the taxman. Indeed deals are booked in Ireland, the company's accounts sit in Ireland, and it is in Ireland where the economic activity takes place. And of course tax rates in Ireland are lower than in the UK.

Google's Data centre in Dublin. Credit: Niall Carson/PA Wire

But MPs have been less than impressed, demanding that Google "calls a spade a spade," accusing them of "lying" to staff who answer adverts to carry out sales jobs in the UK if they are not really carrying out sales jobs, saying "last time you were here at least you had the grace to be honest."

Google are big enough and certainly cleverly advised enough to make it very unlikely that they have actually breached the rules. But that hasn't stopped them getting MPs backs up. And remember it is MPs who actually write the rules.

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