Friday 20 May 2011

Maybe when President Obama's hors d'oeuvre plate is whisked away he will find a bill for £5.5m

BORIS Johnson is set to go into battle with President Obama - demanding he pays back £5.2MILLION in congestion charge fines owed by the US Embassy.
American diplomats refuse to pay the charge for driving in London claiming they are exempt from local taxes.

But the London Mayor claimed the £10-a-day charge, which rises to £120 if unpaid, is not a tax but a "charge for services".

Several embassies refuse to pay the toll - and the current bill for outstanding fines is a whopping £51MILLION.

Mr Johnson revealed his plans to confront Mr Obama during his visit to London later this month on Vanessa Feltz's BBC London radio show today.

The gaffe-prone politician said: "Maybe when President Obama's hors d'oeuvre plate is whisked away he will find a bill for £5.5m.
He continued that he may be "shepherded away" from the president but added: ""If I get the chance to I will remind him that the US owes us £5.5m in congestion charge.
"I think if they are going to have the representation here in London then they should pay the charge for driving and using our streets. So 'No representation without a congestion charge' is the slogan."

The mayor continued: "It is not a tax, it is a charge for services and I think we should test this in the courts.

"The only way we could do this is if the foreign office gets a grip on the situation and actually takes the American government to court and gets this adjudicated in the international court."

TfL confirmed the US Embassy owes £5.2m in unpaid Congestion Charge.

A US statement said: "The US Embassy in London conscientiously abides by all UK laws, including paying fines for all traffic violations, such as parking and speeding violations.

"Our position on the direct tax established by Transport for London in 2003, more commonly known as the congestion charge, is based on the 1960 Vienna Convention on Diplomatic Relations, which prohibits the direct taxation of diplomatic missions.

"Our position is wholly in accordance with that agreement to which the United States and the United Kingdom are both signatories, and it is a position shared by many other diplomatic missions in London."

A spokesman for TfL said: "Around two thirds of embassies in London do pay the charge, but there remains a stubborn minority who refuse to do so, despite our representations through diplomatic channels".

Embassies with payments outstanding include the US, Russia, Japan, Germany, Nigeria, India, Sudan, Ghana, Poland and Spain.

Mr Obama will visit the capital, from 24 to 26 May.