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EDITOR'S LETTER: Google's Matt Brittin, Northern Ireland vs Brexit, why you should fire yourself.

by Matthew Gwyther
Last Updated: 23 Mar 2017

When it comes to considering evil and all its works, I'm one of those people willing to give Google the benefit of the doubt.

(I quite like the fact that there's something purer in its scientific intent than is the case with Facebook or Amazon.) Its corporate tax arrangements make us all cross but Google is doing little that is different from other 'stateless' businesses of its scale, which have made the most of globalisation to turn tax planning into a lawyer-led fine art of side-stepping and offshore obfuscation.

The chances of an international agreement to level the tax playing field are now distant with the advent of Trump. He threatens US businesses who stray abroad - 'all you have to do is stay!' - but has no interest in harmonisation, just zero sum game competitive advantage for the US. Sticking it to the other guy.

Trump doesn't give a fig about Indonesia, the latest government to have a pop at Google/Alphabet, which is demanding $400m in back tax just for 2015. And no exchequer has yet pinned anything criminal on the company. As Matt Brittin, the company's EMEA president, points out in this month's MT Interview, his organisation 'keeps to the speed limit' but isn't the one to decide that it should be 70mph in the first place. Neither will it be the first one voluntarily to drop into the slow lane and see its profits suffer.

By contrast plenty of evil was done in Northern Ireland during The Troubles - 3,500 people lost their lives and there has been little in the way of Truth and Reconciliation since the Good Friday Agreement of 1998. Feelings remain raw. It's been more brushing under the carpet than 'closure'. Ninety per cent of children are still schooled along sectarian lines and the same proportion applies to social housing. There are still 109 'peace walls' dividing communities.

This was my first trip back since the bad days and I'd never been down to the border. So many of those towns close to the Irish Republic were little more than names on a violence-filled news bulletin - Warrenpoint, Crossmaglen, Enniskillen, Omagh.

This is not to say the province hasn't moved forward. Things are hugely better than before and I had a great time - it has massive tourist potential. But Brexit threatens their walled peace and the fragile equilibrium of power sharing. It is also very bad news for the Irish Republic, which is bound to the UK by trade. How both sides are going to get 600 million litres of milk annually and 10,000 pigs plus 1,000 bovines weekly 'seamlessly' and without 'friction' across a 310-mile active and customs-led border has now to be decided double-quick.

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