"It would actually be quite nice if the American ambassador in Britain could pay . . .
"It would actually be quite nice if the American ambassador in Britain could pay the charge that everybody else is paying and not actually try and skive out of it like some chiselling little crook,"
"When British troops are putting their lives on the line for American foreign policy, it would be quite nice if they paid the congestion charge.
"We will find a way of getting them into court either here or in America. We are not going to have them skive out of their responsibilities."
Ken Livingston. Mayor of London. quoted in BBC.CO.UK
Okay. We, the government of the United Sates of America, my government, the richest nation in the world, are invading countries without a real game plan and leaving utter chaos in our wake. We are refusing to cooperate with the Kyoto Treaty while having an “environmental program” that is in utter shambles. We are abridging the human rights of suspects without refer to the Geneva Convention or our own laws. We are passing taxes that soak the poor and bring relief to the highest income groups in the land. We are the world’s largest market for drugs of all kinds, and are effectively doing nothing before the challenges of surging oil prices other than topping up profits of those who need them least. All of that is normal, I guess.
But when a representative of the United States government acts like a “a chiseling little crook" (these are my words as an American citizen, voter, volunteer soldier, and peace worker in Vietnam) as has been the case recently with US refusal to pay the Congestion Charge in London, I really have to conclude that something is terribly wrong.
It’s not that I think that the London scheme is all that it could and should be, but for my government to give aggressive evidence of antisocial behavior instead of just paying up and shutting up, I have to take pen in hand and share these words of total disagreement with you.
So thank you Ken Livingstone for your most justified remarks. And do not give in! Make the bums pay like everyone else. That is what democracy is all about.
(Please forgive this rant, since this is not quite what the New Mobility Agenda is about. I hope you understand.)
London mayor goes after US embassy for tolls
By Christopher Adams in London
Updated: 12:16 a.m. ET March 28, 2006
London's mayor on Monday accused the US ambassador to the UK of behaving "like a chiselling little crook" in a spat over the embassy's refusal to pay the city's road toll.
Ken Livingstone, the famously outspoken left-wing mayor and long-standing critic of American foreign policy, delivered his latest outburst during a television interview. His assault on Robert Tuttle was prompted by the long-running dispute over the embassy's refusal to pay the congestion charge, a toll that is levied on those driving through central London during business hours.
American diplomats have refused to pay the £8 a day toll since last July, racking up many tens of thousands of pounds in unpaid charges. The embassy is believed to have about one hundred cars and fines for each day of non-payment can be as much £150 a vehicle. The embassy argues the charge is a tax and that diplomats are exempt.
Mr Livingstone, something of a stranger to diplomatic niceties, said: "It would actually be quite nice if the American ambassador in Britain could pay the charge that everybody else is paying and not actually try and skive out of it like a chiselling little crook."
Earlier, he had told reporters: "When British troops are putting their lives on the line for American foreign policy, it would be quite nice if they paid the congestion charge."
The mayor's remarks were only his latest brush with controversy. He is already appealing a decision by a disciplinary panel to suspend him from office for four weeks after he compared a Jewish journalist to a concentration camp guard. Last week he said two property tycoons with whom he has fallen out over the development of the 2012 London Olympics should "go back to Iran", though they are Indian-bron of Iraqi-Jewish parents.
He was re-admitted to Tony Blair's Labour party two years ago after being expelled for standing against its official candidate in the first London mayoral elections. A spokesman for the embassy said: "The mayor has a tendency to hyperbole. I'm not going to dignify that."
Copyright The Financial Times Ltd. All rights reserved.
US Embassy must pay C-charge
US Embassy owes £160,000 in unpaid charges
American diplomats are not legally entitled to refuse to pay London’s congestion charge, according to advice from lawyers.
US ambassador Robert Holmes Tuttle told his staff to stop paying last July and claim diplomatic immunity, which gives them protection against paying taxes.
But legal advice to Transport for London says the US embassy is wrong to do this and points to the fact that American diplomats haven’t refused to pay under similar schemes in Singapore and Oslo, in Norway.
Now, following the detailed legal advice, Transport for London will ask the Americans to reconsider their position.
US embassy staff currently owe more than £160,000 in unpaid congestion charges in London.
A US embassy spokesman said diplomats in Stockholm are exempt from paying the congestion charge there. The spokesman added: ‘The U.S. Department of State remains convinced that the charge in London is an impermissable tax and diplomatic missions are not liable for payment of such taxes to host governments under the terms of the Vienna Convention.’
However, the UK government has already made it clear to the US that the congestion charge is not a tax and that it decides what is and what is not a tax in this country.
British diplomats pay road tolls in the United States and Transport for London’s legal advice makes it clear that the US Embassy’s diplomats must pay as London’s congestion charge is not a tax.
A Transport for London spokesman said: ‘The congestion charging scheme gives no privileges to any VIPs, including the Mayor, MPs, London Assembly Members or councillors, therefore we believe diplomats should pay.
UAE Embassy settles congestion charge fees
The Embassy of the United Arab Emirates (UAE) has agreed that its diplomats in London should pay the Congestion Charge, and has reached a deal to clear a backlog of charges.
After discussions with Transport for London, the UAE has paid £99,950.00 for outstanding congestion charge fines accrued by the Embassy from February 2003 to March 2006.
In a letter to TfL, the Embassy said: “I can assure you that every effort will be made in the future for all diplomats working for this Embassy to pay any congestion charges as and when they occur.”
The Mayor of London, Ken Livingstone, said: “All Londoners will welcome this settlement with the Embassy of the United Arab Emirates and, in particular, their commitment to comply with the congestion charging scheme in the future.
“The congestion charge is designed to reduce congestion in the busiest areas of the capital.
“Those embassies, such as that of the United States, which flout the laws of this country and misuse diplomatic immunity to evade the charge are enjoying the benefits of reduced congestion but contributing nothing.”
“British diplomats respect US law when in the US. They pay American tolls on bridges and roads. The US Embassy should accept the advice of the British government and recognise that by trying to ignore this country’s laws they do nothing but damage their standing in the eyes of London’s citizens.
“I hope they will now take a leaf from the United Arab Emirates and understand that as the richest and most powerful country in the world they can well afford to respect this country’s laws.”
Malcolm Murray-Clark, Director of Congestion Charging said: “The congestion charging scheme gives no privileges to any VIPs, so we do not see why diplomats should not pay. The UAE has now joined the majority of other countries who accept this is a legitimate charge.”
Notes to Editors
- Both the Government and TfL have received consistent legal advice which says that diplomats are not exempt from paying the congestion charge. We have the support of the Foreign and Commonwealth Office and eminent members of HM Queen’s Counsel.
- In November last year, the Foreign Secretary, the
Rt Hon Jack Straw MP told the House of Commons in answering a written
“We informed all missions by Note Verbale in March 2002 of our sustained view that there were no legal grounds to exempt diplomatic missions from payment of the congestion charge. Since then, in formal and informal exchanges, we have informed missions of our view that the congestion charge does not constitute a form of direct taxation under the Vienna Convention, but is a charge analogous to a motorway toll, and that they are expected to pay.”
- On 24th January 2006, Lord Triesman, the Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State within the Foreign Office told
the House of Lords:
“My Lords, we take every opportunity to remind diplomatic missions to meet their obligations to comply with United Kingdom law and pay promptly any fines that they incur. Following the annual Written Ministerial Statement on parking and congestion charge penalties on 12 December, we will now formally approach the heads of mission of the top 10 offenders in each category to find out what steps they are taking to pay. We will then take further action as appropriate”.
- All UK missions are expected to pay any road tolls and any parking charges.
- Support for this approach has come from both this country and the US.
- In an editorial on March 31st 2006, The New York Times said: “We don't buy the idea that diplomats are immune to the surcharge”. The New York Times editorial concludes: “Mr. Livingstone is certainly within his rights to demand payment, which may now amount to hundreds of thousands of dollars, including fines”.
Source: http://www.london.gov.uk/view_press_release.jsp?releaseid=w86 (KL’s own home page)