EU VAT area and pre-commencement requirements

Part of Taxation (Cross-Border Trade) Bill – in the House of Commons at 6:00 pm on 16th July 2018.

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Photo of David Davis David Davis Conservative, Haltemprice and Howden 6:00 pm, 16th July 2018

My right hon. Friend is exactly right. It is an issue that I will return to in a second, but before I do I want to make a point about friction. The presumption in all this is that we have a magical, frictionless system at the moment. Actually, we will have seen on our television screens that that is not true. This entire House will have watched Operation Stack in progress over various years. Operation Stack is what we do when one of the ports gets locked up for one reason or another—a strike in France or whatever. It has been operated 74 times in 20 years. In 2015, it took up 31 days of friction, and our businesses—the just-in-time businesses and the perishable goods businesses—all coped with it, so let us not frighten ourselves in doing this negotiation. Nobody wants it and nobody likes it, but they cope with it. My hon. Friend Charlie Elphicke pointed out that with World Trade Organisation facilitation, we will actually minimise the friction on trade through these ports, as was reinforced by my right hon. Friend John Redwood.

Secondly, while people understandably focus on some of the pressure points—most particularly Dover, which we heard about a second ago—they forget that there is strong competition between the ports on the North sea and the ports on the channel. Zeebrugge, Antwerp and Rotterdam all want to increase their throughput at the cost of the Calais-Dover crossing. They are already preparing for increases in throughput in their own areas when we are outside the EU and preparing for the increase in work—because there will be some increase in work—but again, as my right hon. Friend said, it will not happen at the border. It will happen before they get there or after they pass through it, so our so-called dependency on French ports will turn out to be illusory.

Thirdly, in support of the arguments that any friction at the border is unacceptable we hear lots of talk about supply chains. We had it from my right hon. Friend the Member for Broxtowe who proposed this new clause. The simple truth is that this ignores the fact, as my hon. Friend Sir Bernard Jenkin pointed out, that lots of international supply chain operations operate across borders where there are customs, tariff and currency arrangements. I happen to know one of them very well, because I operated a business across just such a border myself—between Canada and the USA. [Hon. Members: “Thirty years ago.”] I went back last year.