Will Morris, former chair of the tax committee at Business at OECD, reflects on his nearly decadelong tenure and experiences leading the business community through OECD global corporate tax reform projects.
This transcript has been edited for length and clarity.
David D. Stewart: Welcome to the podcast. I’m David Stewart, editor in chief of Tax Notes Today International. This week: changing voice.
For nearly a decade, Will Morris has been a leading advocate for the business community on tax matters at the OECD. As chair of the tax committee for Business at OECD (BIAC), he has participated in what might have been the most active period of work on international tax in history.
He recently stepped down from that role and spoke with Tax Notes chief correspondent Stephanie Soong Johnston about his experience. Stephanie, welcome back to the podcast.
Stephanie Soong Johnston: Thanks. Great to be here as always.
David D. Stewart: First off, could you tell us what is Business at OECD?
Stephanie Soong Johnston: Business at OECD is an independent group of multinationals. They basically speak for the international business community and is made up of several member organizations like the U.S. Council for International Business, the Confederation of British Industry, and Keidanren in Japan.
BIAC is basically the one organization that synthesizes all of these business groups’ positions on certain policy matters, including any kind of issue that the OECD works on. They advise the OECD independently on issues, including tax.
David D. Stewart: All right, so could you tell us a bit about Will and what you talked about?
Stephanie Soong Johnston: Sure. Will became the chair of the Business at OECD Tax Committee in November 2012. That was right before the base erosion and profit-shifting project at the OECD really took off, so he’s really been in the driver’s seat in terms of steering what business’s position has been on the BEPS project and other big international tax initiatives, like tax transparency. But most of our conversation centered on the BEPS project and the two-pillar BEPS follow-up project.
I think it was a very fascinating interview and I was glad to have him in the studio. He’s actually our first in-person podcast interview since the pandemic started, so that’s kind of interesting and fun.
David D. Stewart: Sounds great. Let’s go to that interview.
Stephanie Soong Johnston: Thanks, Will, for coming by and speaking us today about your tenure as BIAC’s chair of the tax committee. You’ve been chair of BIAC since 2012, and you’ve just stepped down. I just wanted to find out more about your time there.
Will Morris: Stephanie, it’s a pleasure to be here. It’s actually a pleasure to see you in person. One of the things about the pandemic is that the video calls are great, but actually being here in a podcast studio with somebody is actually just a whole step above that. Thank you very much for inviting me.
Stephanie Soong Johnston: Absolutely.
Will Morris: BIAC, or Business at OECD as I’m officially meant to call it, I’ve done it for nine years and that is quite long enough.
I started in November of 2012, which actually was the very month that the British, German, and French finance ministers wrote to the G-20 to say, “Hey, we need to step up against this aggressive tax avoidance,” which was the genesis of the BEPS project the next year. Obviously the BEPS project begat the project that we’re currently looking at, the digitalization of the economy.
Stephanie Soong Johnston: Definitely not BEPS 2.0 though, right?
Will Morris: No, no, it isn’t. We can get onto that, but it is not BEPS 2.0.
I’ve had the enormous privilege of this ringside seat and there are huge advantages to sitting next to the ring — occasionally things fall out of the ring at you as well — for nine years. I stayed on, honestly, a little longer than I thought I was going to, and probably a little beyond my term in order to see out the digital project.
At a certain point, I said, “OK, I think we need to move this on. It needs new blood.” I’m going to stay involved in BIAC for at least another two years and probably quite involved in the digital project. But Alan McLean, who’s the head of tax at Shell and has a long history with BIAC, is taking over and he’ll do a great job. I’m looking forward to working with him in that role.
Stephanie Soong Johnston: Your job as a chair of BIAC involves a lot of stakeholder views, distilling of views into one position, coordination, and keeping people happy. You’re leaving at a critical juncture at this project here. How do you feel about that and where do you hope it goes from here?
Will Morris: One of the aspects of it that I’ve loved is BIAC is a confederation of other confederations. The United States Council for International Businesses is the U.S. member; the Confederation of British Industry is the United Kingdom member, the Movement of the Enterprises of France from France; the Federation of German Industries from Germany; and Keidanren from Japan. All of those have actually quite a big impact in the formulation of BIAC positions.
Maybe 50 years ago I would’ve become a diplomat, but I actually quite like trying to pull people to a common position on this. We operate on consensus. Consensus doesn’t mean 100 percent. Consensus generally means somewhere around 97 or 98 percent. No one person can veto absolutely everything. But obviously we try to accommodate those.
One of the interesting things is both during BEPS and during this project, despite the fact it’s been very contentious and that there are actually very wide and differing industry perspectives on both pillar 1 and pillar 2, we have been able for the most part to send in consensus comments. That sometimes means that they’re at a slightly higher level than some people would like.
But again, it’s important to say, “Actually business does care about this,” and to stop this being about one sector against another sector. There’s always going to be some of that. But it’s also interesting trying to sort of explain one country’s position to another country’s position. Because of where I started off, where I am now, and the various jobs I’ve done, acting as that type of bridge is something that I find really quite attractive.
To give a very up-to-date example on pillar 2, there are lots of U.S. businesses who for good reasons believe that there are aspects of pillar 2 which could well be much more generous than global intangible low-taxed income, particularly if GILTI gets changed. At the same time, there are lots of European businesses that think that GILTI could end up being much more generous than pillar 2.
We’re saying to each other, “Well, actually, here’s what the other thinks and here’s why they think it. And actually now how do we think ourselves into a position where we have something which is common on pillar 2?” It’s been a really interesting challenge and I’ve loved working with people from lots of different countries.
Prior to the pandemic, I went to Japan, Korea, Australia, South America, North America, Europe, Russia — all sorts of places, not all of them OECD members, to talk about this and to try and make a process roll forward. That was much easier before the pandemic than during the pandemic.
But even during the pandemic, we’ve tried to keep things going. It’s more difficult. I was delighted, thrilled actually, that we did manage to have an in-person BIAC meeting in Paris at the OECD because in a sense there’s nothing natural about this grouping. It’s not like a bunch of old college friends or a sports team or something like that.
BIAC is a group which doesn’t work unless people get together and talk. While we’ve held that together on video calls, actually getting people in the room is what’s absolutely critical so that they can exchange views and so that you can have those offline conversations. I think for all that we talk about the changing workplace and the importance of people being able to be virtual and flexible, if we lose the in-person element completely, we’re going to lose a huge amount.
When I was at the U.S. Treasury Department 25 years ago, I worked for Don Lubick, who is an amazing guy. He used to say, “Look, there two ways of negotiating this. You can start with the first big point, get really stuck on that, and then that’s it basically. Or you can start and find the things you agree with. The things you don’t agree with, just set them aside. At some point, if you agree on enough of the small things, it’ll make the big things easier to agree on.” He was right.
I’ve followed that advice. It doesn’t always work. Sometimes there are some things where you can’t get over the hump. But actually if you try and find out what the common points are, then you can quite often get to that consensus. That’s a better place to be than everybody standing on their rights and getting all angry and not working things out.
Stephanie Soong Johnston: It seems to me that strategy has helped get us to this point. Because for a long time, I think a lot of civil society and other stakeholders were saying, “Well, if business doesn’t want change. . . .” But you came in and I remember you saying this at a consultation: “We understand that change is coming. We just want to be part of it. We want to be engaged.” That is a sea change I thought.
Will Morris: I’m not sure everybody believes it. I understand that some people felt with the very lengthy OECD projects, although they produced brilliant stuff at the end, that those took too long. I think that when business says, “You always complain about that.” You think, “Well, you’re one of the reasons why we always complain about it is because it would always hurt.” That’s why we complain about it.
But at the same time, I think we as business, and this is where I have pushed very gently, have to acknowledge that things are not the way they were 20 years ago. They’re not the way they were 10 years ago.
It’s a series of things. It’s partly globalization, which has changed people’s perception of the way business operates. It’s also changed the way that business operates. Digitalization as well. Underlying both of those are concerns about jobs and job security. Both of those have also led to this K-shaped widening between those who are successful and those who aren’t. That’s both as individuals and as businesses.
Governments talk to each other more. Obviously the advent of social media has changed an awful amount. It hasn’t changed the technical stuff. It doesn’t change the need to write law well. It hasn’t changed underlying economics in the way that globalization has, for example. But it has changed people’s methods of communicating and, probably even more importantly, people’s perceptions. Business needs to lean into that for a couple of reasons.
Firstly, if you are not on the same page or working on the same lines as your customers, your suppliers, and, very importantly, your employees, then things aren’t going to go right. But also society works better if everything is integrated. One of the things that we have seen is sort of asynchronous development and to try and pull things back into each other.
This is not to say that that everybody needs to immediately move to the broadest possible definition of what constitutes a stakeholder society. But I think at the same time for business to say, “Just get out of our way and let to our thing.” Well, no. That’s not how people are working anymore. It’s not how governments are working.
I fervently believe, and I can’t put this too strongly, that the private sector has a huge role to play in creating growth, in creating jobs, in giving people dignity essentially. That’s a really important thing. But at the same time, we need to rethink how we can integrate some of these things. The OECD has moved in that direction to some extent and I think business has as well.
Stephanie Soong Johnston: You kind of talked a little bit about when you first started as chair of the tax committee at BIAC that that project was just getting started. How did that process compare to the consultation process with OECD compared to now?
I wanted to ask you about that letter you sent to the secretariat and to the Working Party 11 and to the Task Force on the Digital Economy. Can you talk a little bit about how the consultation process of this with business differed now from then?
Will Morris: One very important point. The secretariat was CC’ed on that letter. It was to the Task Force on the Digital Economy and the Working Party 11.
Both processes were different and the pandemic has played some part in that. But a number of things. The first is BEPS was a different project and in a different posture to the digital project for a number of reasons. BEPS was in the end 15 action items, obviously not all of which were consulted on, most of which were. It was split up into those units, identifiably separate, and each of them had government people involved.
We as BIAC split up between those. I sort of floated over the top of this, but we had subgroups of BIAC which looked at each of the individual projects. It was a very orderly process. It was much faster than the previous projects, but each of them was relatively well delineated.
Another difference was that BEPS, the narrative, was largely a story of undertaxed or untaxed income. For the countries involved, there weren’t winners and losers. There were only winners, which made them, in a sense, a little more relaxed about what the provisions were and a little more prepared to listen to business.
It was a different project, but it was, if you will, cut up into sort of bite-sized chunks and was thus more digestible.
Not everything worked. If you look at Action 4, if you look at some of the controlled foreign company stuff, for example, they never got below really motherhood and apple pie.
On others, however, the anti-hybrid rules, there were lots of rules, lots of consultation. Some of this treaty stuff, obviously 8 through 10 on transfer pricing, there were lots of consultation there, and on some of the others, country-by-country reporting. It was a process which for the most part worked.
Did business like everything that came out of it? No. But did business feel listened to? Yes, I think so. Or at least heard, not always listened to maybe, but certainly heard. But that part of the process worked well. That was the posture of BEPS.
This project has been different, not BEPS 2.0 as you said earlier. This project was firstly an acceleration of what was meant to be a 2020 review of the digital economy, part of this shortly to become the digitalization of the economy and to broaden it out from simply one sub-sector. Then, when the U.S. came along and did the Tax Cuts and Jobs Act and we had GILTI and base erosion and antiabuse tax, those countries who had hankered after a minimum tax thought they had a reason to sort of push that out onto a more global basis.
But with pillar 1, there are, again, a number of significant differences. When we were talking about BEPS through 2015, we were talking about the OECD member states and the G-20. What we have had in this project has been the inclusive framework.
The OECD formed the inclusive framework. But when you have 90 countries, or now 141, that’s a different challenge in terms of getting consensus inside of that group. And right from the beginning, was this is unlike BEPS because particularly with reallocation in very general terms, if one country wins then another country loses, and the winners are always going to be happy. The losers are probably going to be less happy. That is the way it’s turned out.
What it’s meant is that there’s had to be a lot more focus, not just from the OECD secretariat, but from some of the larger countries involved on getting other countries on board. That was never an issue in BEPS. Everybody was pretty much on the same page.
It’s meant that there’s been a lot less time for business in this process because a lot more time has had to be focused on the countries, and that has impacted the way it’s done.
The other thing is that it wasn’t broken down into the bite-sized pieces essentially. Last October we got two 200-page-plus blueprints, which weren’t indigestible. You just have to spend quite a lot of time chewing them before you could digest them. It meant that there was huge consultations.
Then you have a lot of business comments, 3,000 pages, which is indigestible for the OECD secretariat. Then you have to go back to the governments and it all became much more complicated.
With the beginning of the pandemic, but also some very tight timetables, which to a certain extent the OECD had set themselves, what got squeezed out of that was comprehensive consultation with business was obviously much more difficult during the pandemic. Although there were a couple of sort of video consultations, it’s obviously not the same.
But what the OECD did instead was to reach out to some individual companies, which in one sense is a reasonable way of doing it, but it doesn’t get that cross-sectoral, cross-geographic balance set of views that you would get if you were doing a full consultation and you had, for example, BIAC involved.
To come to the letter, one of the interesting things of this in-person meeting was that I think people felt able in person, at least to me, with me, to be much more angry than they would’ve been on a Zoom call. There was genuine anger and frustration at the lack of consultation and the position in which we found ourselves.
So, I said, “OK. Well, I’ll communicate that.” I’m glad that I did. I think it was important that I did, because I’m not sure that either the secretariat or many of the governments involved understood that. I think that they were so focused on getting agreement amongst themselves.
The point that the letter made, which is, again, completely genuine, is, “Look, we understand the policy calls are being made. I mean, there are one or two left to be made. We’re not really interested in those. What we are interested in is this stuff is going to happen to us. And we actually have some useful thoughts and information for you on how it can be made to happen better rather than worse.”
140 countries involved in pillar 2, for example, there’s going to be no overarching treaty. Coordinating that is going to be very difficult. You would be better served if you have the views of lots of different businesses from lots of different countries on how this could be made to work better. That was the offer that was made, and likewise on pillar 1.
Apparently some of the discussions on the surrender jurisdiction, the country which cedes a tax base in essence, have become terribly theoretical and complicated. Business is saying, “Hey, we sort of understand where you’re trying go, but could we help you design that in a way which actually meshes with business?”
One of the interesting things is some people were saying, “Well, look, we’re talking about pillar 2 being effective in 2023. We understand there’s a very short timeline.” Yes, a very short timeline. But they said, “It’s really a 2024 issue because it’s only in 2024 that you’ll have to pay the tax and do the the tax reporting.” You think, “Can we just explain to you how financial accounting works? How financial reporting works?”
If this is effective on January 1, 2023, then from January 1, 2023, we are going to have to make provision for the tax. We’re going to have to know what the rules are, understand what the rules are, and be able to build tax accruals or whatever on that basis. Also, at the end of the first quarter of 2023, for many people we’re going to have to do the first of our financial projections in public as part of our regulatory reporting.
This actually is not a 2024 issue. It’s a 2023 issue because that’s when it comes into effect. We’ve had similar conversations about deferred tax accounting, what it is, what it isn’t, and how elective it is (not very elective as it turns out).
Again, it’s a process which if business can be more involved in this, then what is designed to fulfill the policy requirements which governments have decided that’s for the governments to do, it’ll work much better. Whereas there’s the possibility of all sorts of crossed wires here if this is thought up in a vacuum.
Stephanie Soong Johnston: Providing tax certainty is supposed to be a cornerstone of the project. Right?
Will Morris: It is.
Stephanie Soong Johnston: Do you think at some point that you will get to tax certainty? I think we’ll have a few years of a bit of messiness. We’ll have some messy rules. We’ll have some messy compliance issues. But eventually will the waters calm?
Will Morris: I hope so. I think there’s no doubt that we will have more tax uncertainty before we get more tax certainty. The question is how quickly can we get there? And what is the extent to which now we can mitigate that uncertainty?
There are a number of ways of doing that. One is we have to talk to business to try and make the rules simpler rather than more complex. See the allocation formulas, all of that type of stuff.
The other is also to provide safe harbors if it’s relatively clear. I remember this from 10-plus years ago working in the U.K. with the U.K. government on their foreign tax changes. They designed this complex set of rules that they knew were only going to apply to about 5 percent of the business population. Yet, they couldn’t think of a way not to have everybody run through all of the rules to get there. The same is going to be true with with pillar 2, maybe true with aspects of pillar 1 as well.
There are going to be most countries where you know that the effective tax rate isn’t going to be below 15 percent. It’s just evident on the face of things. Yet, the rules will require you to run through all of that.
You can do that. You might have footfalls and there will be opportunities for some governments to assert that not everything is being followed.
Why bother going through that? That just doesn’t make sense. What you’re trying to do is to really catch the income which clearly is not being taxed at 15 percent.
How can we build in these simplifications? One of the problems with the timetable is it looks like on pillar 2, some of the safe harbor stuff is actually going to be next year rather than this year. We think we’ll get the rules this year. But we won’t know what the safe harbor is.
People will be thinking about that. But again, with more involvement, talking more, just working it through, and making sure that all of the available knowledge is fed in and business is really ready to feed that stuff in, I think that will help a little bit.
Stephanie Soong Johnston: What has the response been from Working Party 11, TFDE, and the secretariat to your letter?
Will Morris: We have not spoken directly to the working parties. We’ve let the secretariat do that. The response from the secretariat has been positive. They acknowledge most of what I’ve said, which is that a lot of time had to be spent getting to the “political agreement.”
They also acknowledge there’s going to probably still be some more time left on some of the other policy issues. I don’t think that they’re terribly interested in putting out another 200-page document and getting in 3,000 pages of comments on that. So, I think that they’re looking for other ways of doing consultation, but I think they really do want business input.
I think that in that sense, the letter went at the right time. Certainly from some of the governments that I’ve spoken to since then, they too have welcomed that. Interestingly, some smaller governments have welcomed it as well. Because they said, “We actually don’t understand what’s going on. We’d quite like to have a little bit of pause and to hear from business and to do that.” I think we’ll get more of that.
Now, that’s again not to understate the difficulties of the political timetable which have been set before us. To get pillar 2 in legislative form, to get regulations done, to get forms designed, all to be effective in 2023 is a Herculean task.
Likewise, to draft a comprehensive treaty which creates new taxing rights and to drive that through a ratification process, including in some countries where the ratification process is not particularly simple, and indeed in other countries where if their net loses, then actually maybe the parliament won’t be as cooperative as it normally is. To get that in effect by the beginning of 2023, again requires some heroic assumptions.
I think that we’ll have to see how that works, but I’m hopeful that will come to a better place on both of these. The political timetable has created momentum, and I understand that the momentum has been useful in pushing towards a political agreement, which even a year ago would’ve seemed highly unlikely.
But the next step in this is to actually create workable laws, workable regulations, and workable processes for resolving disputes. That’s harder. That can’t be done with quite the same flourish — this is the lawyer in me, I’ll freely admit that — because once you have to start putting words down on paper and understanding what the implication of those is and how courts might deal with those, that’s a different thing. That in some senses can’t be rushed and can’t be papered over.
Stephanie Soong Johnston: Is there any indication that the timetable can be flexible? Because it seems given all these issues that you’ve raised that there is no choice but to build in some flexibility.
Will Morris: Well, yes and no.
Yes, in the sense that I understand why the timetable was set out the way it is. I understand why people continue to talk about it. Because they’re worried that if it begins to slip, then it never stops slipping. That’s a genuine and completely understandable concern. I completely buy that.
At a certain stage, however, accepting the obvious, which happened after the beginning of the pandemic, to begin with the OECD said, “Nope. The timetable is going to stick.” Eventually the G-20 modulated it. There is obviously the possibility there. I think the treaty, which was meant to be open, to be ready at the end of March, in fact will probably be ready at the end of June. But the 2023 effective date they continue to hold to.
Now, there’s a danger with that, which is that the politicians say effectively to the policymakers, “You promised me, and I in turn have promised to the whole wide world. And not just finance ministers, but presidents and prime ministers have promised us. Make it work.” Then there is the terrible possibility that they just do it.
We have seen European directives in the past, which have come into effect while honestly not being completely ready, but because they’ve been done, they’re fixed. That’s the way it is. That would not be a good outcome for pillar 2, because there is more work which needs to be done.
I’m hopeful that they will find a way to say, “OK. Look, we’ve agreed the principle. We have the political agreement. The technical stuff is actually proving to be quite hard, but the beginning of 2024 is now not that far away. Let’s push it to the beginning of 2024.” I think would be a good outcome. That is where I hope we’ll end up.
Stephanie Soong Johnston: Changing gears just a little bit, I’ve been hearing a lot about this, “Let’s make tax boring again. Let’s make it so that companies are not focused so much on tax planning, but on innovation and investment.” Is that going to happen in your view?
Will Morris: This comes back to sort of the arc of my whole career, but certainly the arc of time at BIAC. No is the answer. This is a genie which can’t be put back in the bottle.
There are at least two things which are at play here. The first is a longer term thing. When I started working back in the 1980s, tax was really quite boring. It was a compliance function. You didn’t have a grand title like VP of taxes or global director of tax, or anything like that. You were the tax manager and you were some layers down in the accounting organization. It was a pure compliance function.
What changed on the business side was a realization that tax is a manageable cost. We can talk about whether that got pushed far too far, and a tax department as a profit center, I think, is an issue worth discussing. But nevertheless, tax has been probably rightly elevated as something which is an important factor in a company’s success.
It needs to be balanced with all those other things that we talked about in terms of reintegrating yourself into the society which surrounds you, being more sensitive to customers, to suppliers, to employees, to all of those stakeholders. But I don’t think that part of is going to go away. I don’t think tax is just going to be relegated to being a compliance function.
But the other thing is that governments have been firstly more focused on revenue as revenue needs have increased. Two substantial economic hits in the past 10, 12, 14 years, both a global financial crisis and now the pandemic, have increased revenue needs while decreasing some revenue streams.
That stuff I talked about before in relation to globalization and digitalization, it’s not just on the corporate tax side, although it’s easiest to sort of visualize that for some governments. But when you think about the impact on income taxes, Social Security taxes, other types of taxes, that has changed. Equally, going back to this point about tax, it has just seeped into the public consciousness as being something important. Again, you can’t undo that.
I’m not sure why people would want tax to be boring just to be clear, but I just don’t think it’s possible because I think that business is in a different in place as to how it views tax. There’s a spectrum in there between how much tax planning do you do? How do you weigh that against your obligations to the system? To society? All of that stuff.
Equally, governments, the public, and the media are much more focused on it. That just means that it’s there. As we get more transparency, which we’re clearly going to get, there will be more stuff about tax. It’s a sort of good tagline, but I don’t think it’s realistic.
Stephanie Soong Johnston: Just switching a little bit now to you as Will Morris. Tell me about your other job. You’re a part-time priest at St. John’s Church, Lafayette Square, Washington, D.C.
I read a Financial Times profile on you that Tabby Kinder wrote last summer. It’s indicated that you had a little bit of internal struggle in terms of your day job as a tax advisor and your other job as a priest. Can you just talk a little bit more about that?
Will Morris: Sure. Let me say a couple of things just by way of introduction.
The first is that in my secular job, I am very clear that it’s a secular job. My faith is incredibly important to me, obviously, and that’s part of who I am. But to me, the secular world, the secular job has to work on a secular basis. I am very careful, I hope I’m very careful. I’m not sure I always succeed, but I am very careful when talking about tax, when talking to colleagues or clients, never to appear that I’m doing that with sort of religious finger wagging or preaching or being pious or anything like that. That simply doesn’t work. I think that that’s a really important thing to say up front. I’m not coming into that context.
Another obvious point, however, I think is that in any job, there are going to be areas of ambiguity. In any job, there are decisions which have to be made. There are choices which have to be made. There are going to be people who see things in different ways. Some of those things are going to be challenging.
You can look at a transaction and we have secular structures inside the firm to judge, “Should we support this transaction or that transaction?” We have a tax code of conduct. We apply that to these types of transactions. That’s not to say that they’re good or bad or right or wrong or anything like that, but different people will take different views on that.
But that’s life. That is the whole of life. Life is about making these decisions. Life is about relating to people. I think that one of the dangers, at least one of the dangers for clergy, is to imagine yourself in a position where you’re good and the other people are bad.
One of the things that I’ve always found hugely helpful, really affirming in a sense, is that actually I’m in the place that everybody else is in. I’m in the place where everybody in the congregation is who works. Even those who don’t work, there are times when you may not feel completely comfortable. There are times when you may not feel totally comfortable with yourself, and yet that’s in the essence of being a human being.
It’s working that out. I’ll be careful again about how I say this, but I do think, as I’ve said before, that the business and the workplace, at least before the pandemic, you would be with people 40 hours a week. You’d spend two hours a week with them in church. Maybe you’d go out for dinner with friends for two hours. What other group of human beings do you interact with the most? It’s the people that you work with.
This is not to preach or anything like that, but actually just to be with them as human beings. The things that you find out about their families, what hurts them, what helps them. What an opportunity is there in the workplace just to make things a little better.
This is not about blinding white lights or saving the world or anything like that. It’s actually just about making it a little bit better. That in part is why I like meeting people in person because you establish more of that relationship.
I think that I do believe that religion can be a positive force for good. I have absolutely no doubt based on so much what we see around us. It can be a really divisive force as well, which saddens me.
But yeah, it’s incredibly important to me, but I do not, to use the old phrase, when I come to a tricky question, I don’t say, “Well, what would Jesus do?” No. OK, it’s a secular job. I do it in a secular way. I try and do it according to rules of ethics and a personal approach to it, which is to say, “OK, let’s do all the balancing here.” But again, that’s the way it should be I think.
Stephanie Soong Johnston: I appreciate that answer. I know it’s not a very easy question. What are you most proud of accomplishing during your time as chair?
Will Morris: Well, firstly, just keeping the thing going. I think probably what I’m most proud of, although this is not me. Everything is a team effort to be very clear.
But what I’m most proud of is that both through BEPS and through this project, we have managed to maintain a remarkable level of consensus, which we’ve expressed in letters, but also internally on calls. I would not have guessed at the beginning of BEPS, and I wouldn’t certainly wouldn’t have guessed as this project has progressed, that we’d be able to maintain that level of consensus, but we have.
It’s by listening to everybody’s point of view and trying to find something which works for everybody. There are things in here which under different circumstances could have set people at each other’s throats. There are, within the business community, huge winners and losers. It’s not just amongst countries. There are huge winners and losers in this, and that could have gotten very ugly. But it hasn’t, and I’m really grateful for that. I guess BIAC should be proud of that.
Stephanie Soong Johnston: On the other side, any regrets?
Will Morris: A little more quiet time would’ve been nice. It has been desperately exciting.
No, not really. I wish there hadn’t been a pandemic for all sorts of reasons and this is one of them. I wish there had been more opportunity on this project for us without a pandemic to interact more so that we could have all worked together more closely. But we are where we are and I think under the circumstances, it wasn’t so bad, and now I hope it’ll get better.
Stephanie Soong Johnston: What advice would you give to Alan as your successor? What advice would you give to businesses that are facing down the barrel of these new rules?
Will Morris: What advice would I give? I would give no advice to Alan. He’s a great guy. He will do this very well. I hope he’ll do it in a different way. I look forward to helping him and to seeing him progress. There obviously is a big thing coming up. I think probably the next big thing is going to be ESG (environmental, social, and governance). I think Alan will take charge of that and move it forward.
What advice would I give to businesses? The piece of advice I always give, which is however much this annoys you, and I understand it does annoy some of you quite a lot, stay involved. Stay involved because something is going to happen here.
With pillar 1, it may take a long time for pillar 1 to be ratified, but at the same time, tax authorities in some countries, maybe in many countries, will adopt bits and pieces of this. The amount A sends a signal to some tax authorities about the arm’s length standard and the fact that it’s viewed as not working in some cases. It also sends a message about the nexus rules and sort of the lowering of those thresholds.
I think stay involved on the pillar 1 side to try and make the explanation around that, the procedures, the processes, as good as they can be, even if it takes a long time.
On pillar 2, essentially the same advice, which is for heaven’s sakes, get involved in this. Explain how these rules are going to impact you. How they can be made to work. Not why they don’t work or why they shouldn’t work, or why you made a stupid policy call or anything like that. How can you make them work? Bring your practical and technical expertise to the table and offer it. But offer it in the sense of providing a solution. I think that’s really important.
Stephanie Soong Johnston: One last question. A fun one. Which actor would play you in a movie about the BEPS project and about this project that we’re dealing with now?
Will Morris: Well, let me be very clear. I’m not the director of the OECD’s Centre for Tax Policy and Administration, so it wouldn’t be George Clooney. I think it would probably be some rather goofy British comedian.
Stephanie Soong Johnston: I’ll nominate Colin Firth for this.
Will Morris: Oh! Well, that’s very kind of you. I’ll certainly take Colin Firth.
Stephanie Soong Johnston: Well, thanks again, Will. I really appreciate you stopping by and it’s so good to see you in person.
Will Morris: Well, thank you very much, Stephanie, and thanks to Tax Analysts as well.